Belfast Telegraph

On-the-run letters to terror suspects 'virtually useless'

Terror suspects should not sleep easy in their beds, McGrory tells MPs

By Chris Kilpatrick

Contentious letters sent to on-the-run terror suspects are virtually useless, the most senior prosecutor in Northern Ireland has said.

Barra McGrory QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said anybody in possession of a letter telling them they are not wanted by police "ought not to be sleeping easy in their beds".

And he told MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee who are investigating the letters controversy that a prosecution case is currently under way involving one of those who received a letter.

He said the letters made clear they were only good on the date they were received and the scheme was "flawed".

"It is my professional opinion, as the chief prosecutor of the jurisdiction, that these letters are of little benefit," he said.

"Anyone who is in receipt of these letters ought not to be sleeping easy in their beds."

He said he didn't believe senior Sinn Fein figures received any.

Separately, the Government has admitted royal pardons were secretly given to paramilitaries in return for information, with cases dating back as far as the 1980s.

But Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said it would be wrong to name those granted a royal pardon in terrorism-related cases.

Her comments followed revelations that royal pardons were used in 16 terrorism-related cases after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Earlier, First Minister Peter Robinson described the letters sent to 'on-the-runs' as "a dark chapter in the chronicles of government conduct".

Justice Minister David Ford, members of the Policing Board, Attorney General John Larkin and Innocent Victims United also briefed the panel.

More than 200 letters were sent to republicans. They came to light when the trial of the man accused of the Hyde Park bomb collapsed earlier this year. John Downey, who denied murder, had been sent one of the letters. There have been no successful prosecutions of anybody who received a letter.

Mr Robinson said: "I have to say that I was appalled that such a scheme was ever put in place and equally concerned that it was being done in a covert way. The scheme was hatched in the full knowledge that victims could be denied the possibility of justice.

"It was inequitable, sectarian – a concession to republicans alone. It was deceitful and carried out behind the backs of two sets of unionist negotiators and involved consciously supplying false assurances and disingenuous answers to direct queries."

Before becoming DPP, Mr McGrory had some involvement with the scheme as a lawyer representing Sinn Fein. But he told MPs he had "no hand, act or part" in devising the scheme.

 

Four views on the on-the-run letters controversy...

These letters are of little benefit. Anyone who is in receipt of these letters ought not to be sleeping easy in their beds at night

Barra McGrory, Director of the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service

 

The OTR letter scheme and how it was handled will be recorded as a dark chapter in the chronicles of Government |conduct

Peter Robinson,

First Minister and leader of the DUP

 

I just feel deep hurt and |trampled upon, and my husband’s memory trampled on, along with all the other husbands and family members that were murdered

Phyliss Carrothers, Innocent Victims United, whose husband Dougie was part-time RUC officer

 

It strikes me that the aspect of the scheme which has been relatively under-explored has been the indication, by whatever means, to individuals that the police are still looking for them

John Larkin, Attorney General for Northern Ireland

 

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