Belfast Telegraph

On the runs: 95 republicans linked to 200 terrorist murders says senior PSNI man

By David Young

Ninety five recipients of so-called letters of comfort issued by the Government have links to 200 terrorist murders, a senior police officer has told MPs.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris told a Westminster committee some of the links were only by intelligence.

Mr Harris also said five individuals with letters were under active police investigation on the back of new evidence unearthed by the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

Mr Harris was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the contentious on-the-run (OTR) administrative process, agreed between Sinn Fein and the last Labour government, which saw letters sent to about 190 republicans informing them they were not being sought by the authorities in the UK.

The senior officer said he was not sure if the new evidence related to the fivrepublie recipients would effectively annul the letters.

"That is not clear as we are speaking today," he said.

He said files would be passed to prosecutors in Northern Ireland to assess whether charges could be pursued.

"I don't know whether they (the letters) will be annulled or not," he said.

Mr Harris was appearing alongside PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott.

Details of the scheme, which started running in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, emerged after the collapse of a case against a man accused of the IRA's Hyde Park bomb in 1982 - an attack that killed four soldiers.

The prosecution of John Downey, 62, from Co Donegal, over the Hyde Park outrage was halted in February after a judge found he had been wrongly sent one of the letters, when in fact the Metropolitan Police were looking for him. Mr Downey denied involvement in the attack.

Police in Northern Ireland have been heavily criticised for their handling of the case. Halting the prosecution at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Sweeney said sending the letter to Mr Downey had been a "catastrophic" mistake.

Mr Baggott apologised on behalf of the service in the wake of the judgment.

As well as the committee investigation into the on-the-run scheme, a judge is conducting another review.

The inquiry headed by Lady Justice Hallett, which was ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron, is due to report in the summer.

Further reading

Letters 'not amnesties' - Flanagan

Shankill bomb pensioner seeks review of IRA's 'comfort letters'

Hugh Orde: NIO did not press me to free republican suspects 

'End Troubles prosecutions' says former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain

On the runs: PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott 'stands by apology' over collapse of Hyde Park IRA bomb case

On the runs: Ex-PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde says 'no call from Downing Street asking him to release republican terror suspects' 

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