Belfast Telegraph

OTR letters: IRA suspects to lose immunity from prosecution

U-turn is a victory for justice: DUP

By Joanne Sweeney

A leading unionist MP has given a "cautious welcome" to the news that hundreds of immunity letters given to IRA members will be rescinded.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said of the move, expected to be announced by the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers today: "If this is confirmed, this is indeed very welcome news for those who have suffered at the hands of the IRA.

"We have made it clear all along that these letters were unacceptable and called on the Secretary of State to rescind them.

"It's unacceptable in a democratic society that anyone could be deemed in any sense to be above the law in terms of their involvement in terrorist activity."

He added: "We hope that the NIO will send out a very clear message that victims are entitled to justice and there is no question of an amnesty being granted for a terrorist crime."

Mrs Villiers will tell MPs on the Northern Ireland select committee today that the letters granted to terrorist suspects have been annulled and are "not worth the paper they are written on".

The existence of the "comfort letters" has become one of the most controversial outcomes of the Good Friday Agreement, which only came to light earlier this year.

They were granted to individuals suspected of terrorist crimes committed before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. They told suspects whether they were being sought by police over any past offences.

A government source said: "What the Government is determined to do is make sure that nobody in receipt of one of the original letters should be in any doubt that they cannot rely on those letters to protect them from prosecution should new evidence emerge or a re-assessment of existing evidence lead the PSNI and prosecuting authorities to a different conclusion from their original one."

Mrs Villiers is expected to restate the Government's view that the original letters never constituted an amnesty, immunity or an exemption from prosecution.

She will set out plans to formally notify those who received the letters that the documents are worthless.

A source said the terror suspects in receipt of the original "comfort letters" will be left in "no doubt that they are not worth the paper they are written on".

New letters are now likely to be issued telling terrorist suspects that police will be prepared to mount a prosecution should officers believe there is enough evidence against them.

Story so far

The existence of the so-called "comfort letters" was discovered during the prosecution of suspected Hyde Park bomber John Downey which sensationally collapsed in February when it emerged he had been sent one of the letters. Mr Downey (62), from Donegal, had been arrested last year in connection with his alleged role in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing in London.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph