Belfast Telegraph

Blair summoned over OTR scheme

Former prime minister Tony Blair has been summoned to appear before a Westminster committee investigating a controversial Government scheme to deal with on-the-run republicans.

Members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee unanimously agreed to order Mr Blair to appear after accusing him of being "extremely disrespectful" for failing to respond positively to an invitation to give evidence sent nine months ago.

Formally issuing the summons in a letter to the erstwhile Labour Party leader, committee chairman Laurence Robertson MP said members were "particularly disappointed" that he had been unable to "find an hour or so to meet us".

"The Committee felt that this was extremely disrespectful to the House," Mr Robertson wrote.

Mr Blair has been summoned to appear before the committee inquiry on January 14.

The committee is examining a scheme formulated by the last Labour government at the request of Sinn Fein that saw about 200 letters sent to so-called on-the-runs (OTRs) assuring them they were not being actively pursued by the UK authorities.

The probe was triggered by the high-profile case of John Downey, who walked free from the Old Bailey earlier this year when his prosecution for the murders of four soldiers in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing was halted by a judge when it emerged he had been sent one of the letters in error.

Co Donegal man Downey, 62, who denied involvement in the bombing, was wrongly issued with a letter because Government officials in the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) were not told by police in Northern Ireland that he was being actively sought by the Met for the Hyde Park outrage.

The Old Bailey judge put a stay on his prosecution as he deemed his arrest at Gatwick airport in 2013 constituted an abuse of process.

Household Cavalry Lieutenant Anthony "Denis" Daly, 23, died in the explosion in Hyde Park on July 20 1982 alongside Trooper Simon Tipper, 19, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young, 19, and 36-year-old Squadron Quartermaster Corporal Roy Bright.

A judge-led review of the wider letters scheme ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron and published in the summer found it was systematically flawed in operation but not unlawful in principle.

But Lady Justice Hallett, who conducted the probe, said a "catastrophic" error had been made in the Downey case.

The committee has also summoned two senior Government officials to appear.

Members are seeking to take public evidence from Cabinet Office, and former Northern Ireland Office, officials Mark Sweeney and Simon Case.

Mr Robertson said Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers had previously blocked their attendance.

The officials have been summoned to appear on January 7.

A spokeswoman for Mr Blair said: "We have been carefully considering all the options previously proposed by the Committee, given they refused to accept written evidence along with the assurance that any subsequent questions would be answered.

"This process has been difficult but no disrespect was intended, neither to the House nor to the people of Northern Ireland."

It is understood Mr Blair is not currently in the UK.

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