Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

OTRs row: Lady Justice Hallett's report to give clarity on who knew what about Sinn Fein deal

Lady Justice Heather Hallett is conducting a review of a government scheme on the handling of fugitive republicans
Lady Justice Heather Hallett is conducting a review of a government scheme on the handling of fugitive republicans

Tomorrow morning the political focus will return to the OTR (on-the-runs) controversy with publication of the report by Lady Justice Hallett.

That review, ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron, has looked at an administrative scheme in which letters were sent to around 200 republican suspects who returned home in the peace process years.

The so-called comfort letters have been described as a secret deal between the Blair government and Sinn Fein.

And the report will be read for the detail of who knew what and when and, between its lines, for who could, or should, have known what and when.

There were many clues long before the collapse of the John Downey/Hyde Park bomb case earlier this year.

At the time it emerged that Downey had been wrongly sent one of the letters when still wanted by the Met.

The revelation caused a political earthquake and a number of reviews and investigations are happening.

This newspaper understands the Hallett Review has written to a number of former senior police officers, outlining where they may be criticised in the report.

One of the issues raised was the working guidelines for the detective team reviewing the intelligence/evidence relating to individual cases.

The Hallett team letters offered the opportunity to respond before publication. But, whoever is criticised, this was a deal worked out at the highest political level.

As far back as March 2002, then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern described the British administrative procedure involving "checking each case through the administrations of justice and policing in Northern Ireland".

High-profile cases, including jail escaper Liam Averill and Eibhlin Glenholmes, were reported in March 2001 and June 2002.

And, in 2007, just weeks after Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness entered government, this newspaper published detailed figures from the Attorney General's office.

The fine detail wasn't out there, but there were many clues that could have been followed.

  • Brian Rowan is a journalist and broadcaster

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