Labour sorry for 'catastrophic error' that denied justice to Hyde Park victims' families
The Shadow Secretary of State has said Labour owes the relatives of the Hyde Park bomb victims an unequivocal apology after the "catastrophic error" that denied them justice.
The remarks by Ivan Lewis MP are the first words of regret by a senior Labour politician in relation to the controversial scheme in which letters were issued to on-the-run IRA suspects (OTRs) assuring them they were not being sought by any UK police force.
The MP also distanced himself from former Labour Secretary of State Peter Hain's controversial suggestion that there should now be an amnesty for British soldiers who were involved in the Bloody Sunday shootings.
The comments follow the political crisis in the wake of the collapse of the prosecution of John Downey over the IRA's Hyde Park bombings of 1982, in which four soldiers were murdered.
Mr Downey walked free from court after it emerged he had been wrongly sent a letter by the authorities that informed him he was not being sought by police.
Mr Lewis also apologised for the "crass insensitivity of those who chose to focus on the perceived wrong Mr Downey suffered".
The letters were issued as part of a scheme set up by the NIO under Tony Blair's Labour administration.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Lewis said the Prime Minister was right to say it would be inappropriate to unpick specific elements of the peace process.
"However in defending the peace process, we owe the families of the Hyde Park victims an unequivocal apology. For the catastrophic error, and the crass insensitivity of those who focus on the perceived wrongs Mr Downey suffered, rather than the brutally murdered soldiers," said Mr Lewis.
"It is similar to the anger provoked by claims of equivalency between a republican or loyalist paramilitary bomber killed during an attempted bombing and a civilian or soldier killed by a terrorist attack.
"Of course, the families of all concerned deserve support from victims' services. But there should be no attempt to suggest moral equivalence."
Mr Lewis also appeared to knock down Peter Hain's suggestion that the Bloody Sunday soldiers should not be prosecuted.
In a speech to be delivered to business leaders at Hillborough Castle tonight, Mr Lewis will say: "I do not agree that peace would be best served now and in the future by denying victims' families any right to seek answers and accountability for the loss of loved ones.
"Whether those concerned are the vast majority who were killed by IRA or loyalist paramilitaries or others who are alleged to have been killed unlawfully by military personnel, supposedly 'drawing a line' with an across the board amnesty would do nothing to heal wounds or help create a better environment for reconciliation."
The former Labour Government has faced massive criticism over the last week after details of the "letters of comfort" for OTRs burst into the public domain.
However, Mr Lewis also wrote that neither he nor his party should "recant for the introduction of the so-called on-the-run administrative scheme.
"I cannot accept this despite the understandable anger some have expressed," he said.
"It would be a failure of leadership and integrity to be retrospectively selective about key elements of a historic peace process which ended 30 years of violence and terror."
Ivan Lewis (right) was elected as MP for Bury South in 1997 during the landslide Labour victory in which Tony Blair became Prime Minister. He had worked in the voluntary sector, primarily in mental health before his election to the House of Commons. He has had several positions in the shadow Cabinet before being posted to Northern Ireland last October.