Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Shankill bomb pensioner seeks review of IRA's 'comfort letters'

The scene following the Shankill bomb
The scene following the Shankill bomb

A bid for the first judicial review into the handing out of almost 200 'comfort letters' to on-the-run terrorists has been launched.

Elizabeth Morrison (79) – who lost three members of her family in the Shankill bomb just two days after her husband died – filed papers challenging the controversial scheme at Belfast High Court on Friday. One of the victims – Mrs Morrison's son Michael – was buying a wreath for his father James' funeral when he was killed, leaving two children orphaned.

She has taken the case to try and secure court orders to cancel the on-the-run (OTR) scheme and discover whether anyone suspected of the Shankill bomb has received one of these comfort letters.

In February, it emerged the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) had handed out 187 letters to on-the-run terrorists, telling them they were no longer wanted by the authorities.

Most of these letters were issued at the request of Sinn Fein, while a small number were requested by the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Irish government.

The letters came to light earlier this year when Donegal man John Downey was cleared at the Old Bailey in London of taking part in the 1982 Hyde Park bomb. He had been the recipient of one of the letters.

There was widespread political outrage and the NIO announced an investigation into the scheme.

A media report in the days after the Downey judgment claimed one of the Shankill bombing suspects had been handed a comfort letter. The north Belfast man is understood to have fled Northern Ireland shortly after the 1993 attack. However, it is believed he returned in 2007, after Sinn Fein secured him a letter from the authorities.

Mrs Morrison's legal team has written to the NIO inquiring about this report.

The NIO responded with a letter, which the Belfast Telegraph has been told included an expression of sympathy from the Secretary of State over what had happened.

However, the NIO refused to confirm a Shankill bomb suspect was among those who received comfort letters, because of the Data Protection Act and also because it has a duty under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights to protect the individual's life.

Because of this letter, Mrs Morrison filed for a judicial review of the administrative scheme run by the NIO. She has asked for an order from the court to quash the decision of the Secretary of State to establish the OTR scheme, to quash the operation of the scheme and to quash any letters that were sent out.

Mrs Morrison is also seeking a declaration from the High Court that any letters sent under the scheme are unlawful, as well as disclosure of documents from the scheme of anyone suspected of involvement of the Shankill bomb who may have received one of these letters.

The 79-year-old lost her husband James the day before the Shankill bomb. Her son Michael (27) had been on the Shankill Road on October 23, 1993 to buy a wreath for his father's funeral when he was killed with his partner Evelyn Baird (27) and their daughter Michelle (7). The bomb left their nine-year-old boy and six-week-old baby girl orphaned.

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