Belfast Telegraph

On The Runs inquiry may include section on use of clemency

By Liam Clarke

Lady Justice Hallett's review into on-the-run letters is expected to include a section on the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) in Troubles-era cases.

The review will be completed by the end of the month but will have to undergo security checks before it is released, the Belfast Telegraph has learnt.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has already said that 16 RPMs were issued by last Labour Government. Yesterday a list of those who received them and who was denied them was given in a court judgment by Mr Justice Stephens. He refused the request of Robert Rodgers, a UVF hitman, to be let off with one of his murders through the RPM mechanism.

The judge outlined the principles on which RPMs were issued here. The intention was to ensure equal treatment under the early release scheme introduced after the Good Friday Agreement. The judge said "the legislative intent that those subsequently convicted should serve two years imprisonment before being entitled to accelerated release".

He added: "In each of the cases where it (RPM) had been granted it had been done to address anomalies that otherwise prevented the application of the early release scheme."

He signalled that the courts would only "interfere in the exercise of the RPM" where an applicant could prove "to a high factual threshold that there was an unfair or unequal approach".

The circumstances under which the RPM was granted by Tony Blair's Government were:

  • To correct anomalies in the treatment of offenders given the same sentence as co-defendants who would otherwise serve longer in prison.
  • To release prisoners who would have been eligible for release under the Good Friday Agreement had they not transferred from a different jurisdiction.
  • To release prisoners who would have been eligible had their offences been categorised as scheduled, that is related to the Troubles, at the time they were committed. Some offences were scheduled at one point in the conflict but not at others.
  • To release prisoners who would have been eligible had they not served their sentences overseas.

Some of those who qualified so far include James McArdle, who carried out the 1996 Canary Wharf bombing and who was released early, and Malachy McCann who was an IRA arms buyer, something which was not a scheduled offence when he was convicted of it.

Sean Braniff, an INLA man caught with a van load of weapons in the Republic but transferred to prison in Northern Ireland, was also released using the RPM.

DUP justice spokesman Paul Givan said the details "further underlines the need for these cases to be included within the OTR review being carried out by Lady Justice Hallett".

He added: "It is vital there is full transparency about all such cases, whether it is the use of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy or the grubby deal between republicans and the Government on the OTR letters."

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