Report into republican fugitive letters due

The Hyde Park bombing, at the core of the Downey case,

A report will be published later into secret letters telling republican fugitives - the so called On the Runs - that they were not wanted by the police.

It is believed nearly 200 were sent the documents.

Lady Justice Heather Hallett conducted the investigation into the so-called administrative process agreed between the last Labour government and Sinn Fein.

The probe, which will be outlined to parliament by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, was ordered by David Cameron in February in the wake of the high profile collapse of a case against a man accused of murdering four soldiers in the IRA’s Hyde Park bombing in 1982.

The prosecution of John Downey, 62, from Co Donegal, was halted at the Old Bailey after Mr Justice Sweeney found he had been wrongly sent one of the Government’s letters of assurance in 2007 informing him the authorities were not pursuing him, when in fact the Metropolitan Police were looking for him.

The judge decided his arrest, when he travelled through Gatwick airport last year, and the subsequent prosecution had therefore represented an abuse of process.

Mr Downey denied involvement in the attack.

Police in the North were heavily criticised over the error in the Downey case but the court proceedings also shone a light on the wider administrative scheme of sending assurance letters to fugitive republicans.

Many politicians at Stormont, particularly unionists, reacted furiously, claiming they knew nothing about the letters – alleging they amounted to “get out of jail free cards”.

A police commander has since claimed that 95 of those who received letters were linked, by intelligence, to 295 murders during the Troubles.

Sinn Féin has accused their political rivals of manufacturing a crisis and claimed information about the process was already in the public domain before the Downey case.

Republicans have also moved to downplay the significance of the letters, rejecting the claim they amounted to amnesties, insisting they were merely a statement of fact about an individual’s status at a point in time.

Ministers in both the current and previous governments also dismissed any suggestion the letters were amnesties, insisting the Downey case was an aberration.

To emphasise this, they pointed out that a number of individuals who applied for letters were not given them, as the authorities were still seeking them.

In regard to the 295 murder cases, they made clear that evidence based on intelligence was not sufficient to mount a prosecution.

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