Belfast Telegraph

Hyde Park bomb suspect John Downey faces new Scotland Yard probe over IRA attacks

By Don Hale

Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey is now top of a list of five key republicans under active investigation by a new specialist team of Scotland Yard officers.

The officers will supervise a review of how and why he received a letter of immunity from the PSNI that forced his sensational acquittal from his Old Bailey trial in February.

Police sources have also told the Belfast Telegraph they are investigating claims of fresh evidence against the 62-year-old including alleged links to the 1972 Cherrymount bombing in Enniskillen, in which two UDR members were killed. It is claimed that his fingerprints connect him to the scene of crime at Hyde Park and Cherrymount.

The remit will examine any alleged involvement to both the Hyde Park and Regent's Park bombings, which in total murdered 11 military personnel.

The bombs used in both incidents were very different and led the security services to believe they may have been planted by separate IRA cells, yet the fact they happened within hours of each other on July 20, 1982, suggests an active co-ordination.

Downey has never been arrested or charged in connection with the Cherrymount bomb and his legal team and Sinn Fein have previously declined to comment on the allegations.

Sinn Fein yesterday declined to comment on the development of an active investigation centred on Downey, who has a conviction for IRA membership.

In an interview with the Donegal Democrat after the collapse of his trial, the former Sinn Fein election agent stressed his role in promoting the peace process.

Downey, from Co Donegal, was arrested at Heathrow Airport, and in May last year he was charged with four counts of murder and with intending to cause an explosion likely to endanger life relating to the Hyde Park atrocity.

He had pleaded not guilty, and his Old Bailey trial was spectacularly halted when Sinn Fein witness Gerry Kelly confirmed that 187 people had received letters of indemnity, including Downey, who it was claimed had received his letter by mistake.

Mr Justice Sweeney stopped proceedings and confirmed that a letter sent to Downey from the PSNI in 2007 assured him he would not face any criminal charges over this attack.

The court was given an assurance that despite the letter being sent in error, and the PSNI realising the mistake, it was never withdrawn, therefore the judge ruled the defendant had been misled and claimed prosecuting him would be an abuse of power.

The fiasco led to threats of resignation from DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson, unless Prime Minister David Cameron organised a judge-led inquiry into what are now called on-the-run (OTR) letters of immunity.

He appointed Lady Justice Hallett to lead a major inquiry looking into the OTR letters.

A separate inquiry is also under way by the Northern Ireland Committee (NIC), and the PSNI has announced details of its own 'Operation Redfield'.

This will assess the precise circumstances of 228 individuals who received immunity letters to check whether they were wanted, and whether any fresh evidence has since emerged.

Drew Harris, the PSNI Assistant Chief Constable, confirmed the full extent of the OTR letters to the NIC at Westminster.

He said 95 IRA suspects believed responsible for nearly 300 murders had received OTR letters.

He added that it related to more than 200 incidents in which 295 people had died. He stressed that links to the 95 people identified "may not have been strong enough to justify an arrest".

ACC Harris confirmed: "Five individuals in possession of letters are now under active police investigation on the back of fresh evidence unearthed by the historical enquiries team."

A senior police source suggested Downey's letter might not have been sent by 'mistake' and claimed it may have been a deliberate ploy to flush out the alleged suspect so that he could be questioned and arrested.

The Belfast Telegraph attempted to contact Lady Justice Hallett's inquiry but it could not be reached.

Background

Alfred Johnston (32) and James Eames (33), both UDR members, were killed on August 26, 1972 when an IRA remote controlled bomb went off. The bomb was hidden in an abandoned car and detonated when their patrol approached at Cherrymount, near Enniskillen. John Downey has never been questioned or charged in connection with the explosion. However, his name has been linked to the attack in police files. After the collapse of the Hyde Park bomb case against the Donegal man, it is understood he is under a fresh investigation linked to Cherrymount.

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