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No comfort letters for Shankill bomb suspects, court told

By Alan Erwin

Published 11/06/2016

Sean Kelly
Sean Kelly

None of six suspects identified over the IRA's Shankill Road bomb atrocity received comfort letters issued in the controversial "On The Runs" scheme, the High Court heard yesterday.

Counsel for Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and the PSNI gave the assurance as he resisted a legal challenge brought by a pensioner who lost three members of her family in the attack.

But 81-year-old Elizabeth Morrison's barrister argued the secretive comfort letters process, linked to nearly 300 murders, was unlawful and represented a wilful abandonment of evidence-gathering opportunities.

Rejecting a House of Commons statement by Ms Villiers in which she warned paramilitary suspects who received the letters not to rely on them as an amnesty from prosecution, Alan Kane QC said: "It's not worth the Hansard paper it's printed on."

Mrs Morrison's son, Michael, his partner, Evelyn Baird, and their seven-year-old daughter, Michelle, were among 10 killed in the 1993 atrocity.

Her legal challenge centres on a Press report that one of the bomb suspects who fled across the Irish border was among nearly 200 republicans sent a confidential letter indicating he was not wanted by police.

The scheme provoked widespread outrage after Co Donegal man John Downey's trial on charges linked to the 1982 London Hyde Park bombing collapsed in February 2014.

He had been mistakenly sent a government letter saying he was not wanted for questioning.

Mrs Morrison's High Court action had been put on hold pending the outcome of separate judicial and parliamentary inquiries.

An independent review carried out by Lady Justice Hallett found significant failures, but concluded the scheme was lawful.

Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee separately concluded that it had damaged the integrity of the criminal justice system.

Following the probes, the legal challenge resumed yesterday, with Mr Justice Maguire questioning if the case had been rendered academic by the Government "disowning" the letters.

Tony McGleenan QC, for the Secretary of State and the PSNI, argued there was no proper basis for continuing the challenge.

He referred to a review by the police Historical Enquiries Team that identified six suspects in connection with the Shankill Road attack - convicted bomber Sean Kelly and five others who have never named.

Mr McGleenan said: "There is no linkage between any person suspected of this atrocity and the letters under the administrative scheme."

But Mr Kane countered: "This is a scheme which was effectively run in secret, during which it was disclosed that there were almost 300 murders committed by people who received these on the run letters."

Mr Justice Maguire pledged to give his decision as soon as possible

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