Crisis: The inside story of 'on the runs' deal that threatens to topple Stormont
The key details over 16 years outlined in the judgment by Justice Sweeney
Published 27/02/2014 | 12:00
* July 1998: The position of on-the-runs (OTRs) is addressed during the second phase of Good Friday Agreement negotiations. Sinn Fein claimed that as many of the cases were historic the position of OTRs was anomalous. They claimed the presence in Northern Ireland of those affected could further the peace process.
* May 5, 2000: Following negotiations at Hillsborough Castle which resulted in agreement as to a process for disarmament (and during which private assurances were again given to Sinn Fein that the OTR issue would be sorted), and in the continuing absence of a legislative solution, the Prime Minister wrote to Gerry Adams stating: "I can confirm that, if you can provide details of a number of cases involving people 'on the run' we will arrange for them to be considered by the Attorney General, consulting the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police, as appropriate with a view to giving a response within a month if at all possible."
* May 19, 2000: Sinn Fein provided a "preliminary" list of OTRs containing 36 names to the Government's chief negotiator, Jonathan Powell. He passed it on to the Attorney General.
* June 2, 2000: The Attorney General wrote to then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson stating: "... I am seriously concerned that the exercise that is being undertaken has the capacity of severely undermining confidence in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland at this most sensitive of times.
"Individual prosecution decisions have to be justifiable within the framework in which all prosecution decisions are reached and I am not persuaded that some unquantifiable benefit to the peace process can be a proper basis for a decision based on the public interest..."
* January 19, 2001: The Prime Minister gave Sinn Fein written assurance that the "Government recognises the difficulty in respect of those people against whom there are outstanding prosecutions... The Government is committed to dealing with the difficulty as soon as possible, so that those who, if they were convicted would be eligible under the early release scheme are no longer pursued..."
* January 2002: Downey's name was first put forward by Sinn Fein. In June and July it was recorded that inquiries into Downey were ongoing.
* July 22, 2004: An internal PSNI document recorded that the arrest and interview of Downey had been approved in respect of a number of Northern Ireland incidents, including a bombing in Enniskillen. It was also recorded that Downey had been identified on fingerprints in relation to the Hyde Park explosion on July 20, 1982, and that the Anti-Terrorist Branch had confirmed that no extradition had been attempted, but that it was its intention to arrest him should he come within jurisdiction.
* December 28, 2006: In a confidential letter, the Prime Minister assured Gerry Adams the Government, having already announced it would no longer pursue the extradition of individuals convicted of pre-1998 offences who had escaped from prison and who would, if they returned to Northern Ireland and successfully applied for the early release scheme, have little if any of their time left to serve, was now working with a renewed focus on putting in place mechanisms to resolve all OTR cases.
This included "expediting the existing administrative procedures" and stated that "I have always believed that the position of these OTRs is an anomaly which needs to be addressed. Before I leave office I am committed to finding a scheme which will resolve all the remaining cases".
* February 2007: The PSNI commenced Operation Rapid, the operation for a review of people circulated as "wanted" by the PSNI in connection with terrorist-related offences up to April 10, 1998.
Its purpose was to examine what basis, if any, the PSNI had to seek the arrest of those individuals identified by Sinn Fein to the Government and passed to the Chief Constable.
Operation Rapid marked the beginning of direct engagement between Sinn Fein and the PSNI in order to try to expedite the remaining cases. The first Operation Rapid meeting took place on February 7, 2007. It was chaired by the DCS Norman Baxter.
* April 13, 2007: Email messages within the PSNI show that, at the request of Operation Rapid, a check was made to see whether Downey was still wanted for the Hyde Park bombing – it was confirmed he was.
* May 7, 2007: Acting Detective Chief Inspector Graham of Operation Rapid reviewed Downey's case.
It is said that he had available to him the 2003 OTR documentation relating to Hyde Park and April 13, 2007 update – both of which referred to the Hyde Park bombing.
ADCI Graham recorded his decision in a policy decision log book as being: "That subject is not wanted by PSNI, however there is information to suggest that he is wanted by Metropolitan Police, I will request an up to date report from Metropolitan Police on current status of their circulation."
* May 10, 2007: DCS Norman Baxter who, it is said, would (unless he asked for further documentation) only have considered ADCI Graham's report of May 7, reported to Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan in relation to a number of individuals. As to Downey, he said that: "The above person is a native of the Republic of Ireland and is a citizen of the Irish Republic. He has not resided in Northern Ireland and remains resident in his native district. He is not currently 'on the run' from his home. I have reviewed his case and there is no basis in my professional opinion to seek his arrest currently for any offence prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
"The above person should be informed that he is not currently wanted by the PSNI for offences prior to the Good Friday Agreement 1998, but it should be borne in mind that should new properly assessed and reliable intelligence, or new evidence which has been judged to retain its integrity, emerge which creates reasonable grounds to suspect his involvement in offences, then he will be liable to arrest for any such offence which may have been committed during this period." Although DCS Baxter knew from ADCI Graham's report about the fact that Downey was wanted in relation to the Hyde Park bombing, he made no reference to it or Downey being wanted in relation to it.
* June 6, 2007: ACC Sheridan wrote to the DPP (NI) referring to the ongoing review and stated in relation to Downey that: "The above person is not a resident of Northern Ireland and is a citizen of the Republic of Ireland. He has not resided in Northern Ireland and remains a resident in the Republic. He is not therefore currently 'on the run' from his home. Inquiries indicate that John Downey is not currently wanted by the PSNI..."
* June 2007: NIO requested confirmation in writing from Operation Rapid that all checks with outside forces had been carried out in relation to subjects under review.
On June 13, 2007 ACC Sheridan's D/Staff Officer emailed DCS Baxter and ADCI Graham seeking confirmation that the checks had been done.
* June 14, 2007: A member of the Operation Rapid team emailed ADCI Graham highlighting flaws in the Police National Computer (PNC) database. The email said specific checks needed to be carried out and it was said Interpol checks were required.
It was passed to DCS Baxter who emailed ADCI Graham: "The issue is probably resolved." In email correspondence on June 20 between ADCI Graham, DCS Baxter and ACC Sheridan's D/Staff Office it was made clear Interpol checks were not being done.
On June 27 ACC Sheridan wrote to the Director Political at the NIO stating, in answer to her earlier query, he could confirm that: "Our review set out to establish if X is wanted for arrest by PSNI for any offences pre the Good Friday Agreement or circulated as wanted for arrest by an external force and the existence of reasonable grounds (within the UK) or a European Arrest Warrant.
"This can be established by an ICIS check (PSNIs computer system), checks with An Garda Siochana and the PNC. These checks have all been carried out in relation to the letters forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions from the PSNI and they are the same checks which have been carried out during previous reviews."
* July 20, 2007: Mark Sweeney of the NIO wrote to Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly stating: "You have previously been in correspondence with the Northern Ireland Office about a number of individuals who are currently on the run but want to return to Northern Ireland and wish to be informed of their status if they were to do so. Following investigations made by the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland I can now confirm that the necessary checks have been completed on 10 more individuals.
"On the basis of the 34 information currently held in respect of the 10 individuals, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are they wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police..."
* May 2008: Another inquiry team in the PSNI investigating a double murder in 1972 made inquiries of Operation Rapid regarding the status of Downey as "not currently wanted" and if it was solely based on information at the time of the assessment in June 2007. The Historical Enquiries Team was said to be keen to issue a fresh alert in regard to Downey in connection with the 1972 incident.
* The PSNI did not alert the DPP (NI), or anyone else, to the fact that Downey was wanted by Metropolitan Police in relation to the Hyde Park bombing in June/July 2007, or to the fact that he was still wanted by Metropolitan Police in July 2008.
On October 21, 2009 an internal PSNI report said Downey was one of a number of individuals whose name was checked against lists held by Operation Rapid with the result: "Status reviewed by Op Rapid and assessed as 'not currently wanted' by PSNI. He is, however, alerted on PNC as wanted for murder 20/07/82 (Hyde Park)".
Again, nothing was done to alert the DPP (NI) that Downey was wanted by the Metropolitan Police.