Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein letter role probe urged

A full investigation is needed to establish Sinn Fein's role in the erroneous issuing of an on-the-run letter to the suspect in Gareth O'Connor's murder, political rivals have urged.

The Democratic Unionists, Ulster Unionist, SDLP and Traditional Unionist Voice all called for action in the wake of the revelation that the suspect was handed an assurance he was not being sought by the authorities in the relation to the 2003 murder - even though the Government scheme for administering the letters was only supposed to cover crimes up until 1998.

As Mr O'Connor's inquest was halted in Armagh today it emerged that Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly was the "conduit" through which the letter was delivered by the Government to the suspect in 2008.

Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley claimed the latest revelation demonstrated why Sinn Fein was determined the scheme would remain secret.

"This secret OTR scheme was operated for the sole benefit of republicans and since it was first uncovered we have seen just how involved Sinn Fein were in its operation," he said.

"It was shambolic in operation and in principle - a corruption of justice.

"The Government has now stated that these letters cannot be relied upon to avoid prosecution. This case once again demonstrates the importance of those words."

UUP MLA Danny Kennedy said Mr Kelly owed the O'Connor family an explanation.

"This is another damaging revelation around a corrupt scheme arranged between the Government and Sinn Fein," he said.

"It fuels a perception of a two-tier system of justice in operation whereby those in the know with Sinn Fein have been able to get their hands on letters of comfort which in some cases have had the effect of being a get out of jail free card.

"I am astounded to hear that a suspect in a murder case has not been interviewed due to him being in receipt of an OTR letter. This is not how the Criminal Justice system ought to operate.

"This murder involved the well used Provisional IRA tactic of disappearing the victim. And now we hear that an OTR letter was delivered by the postman called Gerry Kelly."

SDLP Assembly member Dominic Bradley said Mr Kelly had serious questions to answer.

"It's almost 10 years since Gareth O'Connor's body was found in a car submerged in Newry Canal," he said.

"His family, like so many others, have desperately searched for the truth about what happened to their son.

"The fact that today's inquest hearing has been postponed as a result of the discovery of an On The Run letter is deeply disturbing and leaves serious questions to be answered, not least of all by Sinn Fein and Gerry Kelly in particular."

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "That someone wanted in connection with such a recent murder received one of the letters suggests that the PSNI and Northern Ireland Office issued them without even the most elementary checks.

"It is clear that whatever Sinn Fein wanted in order to buy their support for the police, they got.

"The public will now watch with interest to see what happens with this case. Will the existence of the letter mean that the suspect never stands trial?"

Alliance party leader deputy leader Naomi Long said she was angered at what had emerged.

"This is another example of an investigation that may be jeopardised by errors in this scheme," she said.

"The lack of transparency and proper accountability and oversight of this process has, yet again, caused considerable hurt to a grieving family.

"Further, that this error was only discovered by the inquest on Friday when it was identified and referenced in the Hallett Report published last summer, raises further questions about communication between the various agencies involved in this scheme, even after the Downey judgment and Hallett report."

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