Belfast Telegraph

Six IRA bomb suspects given 'comfort' letters face fresh police probe

By Claire Williamson

The PSNI has reportedly launched new investigations into six key IRA suspects alleged to be behind some of the most notorious attacks of the Troubles - who received letters telling them they were not wanted by police.

The on-the-runs' (OTRs) so-called letters of comfort were drawn up under Tony Blair's administration in a deal with Sinn Fein as a peace process move.

The scheme saw around 200 fugitive republicans receive assurances that they were not wanted by UK authorities.

A political crisis was sparked after the collapse of the prosecution last year of John Downey for the Hyde Park bombing which killed four soldiers in 1982.

The Telegraph newspaper reported that detectives in Northern Ireland have found "six additional individuals whose circumstances have been identified as similar to the Downey case".

It almost brought Stormont down, with First Minister Peter Robinson threatening to resign.

Downey received one of the OTR letters in error when he was wanted by the Metropolitan Police. The Government has said it no longer stands by the letters.

The revelations came from a leaked police document which reportedly shows that detectives now believe these "comfort letters" do not protect suspects from prosecution.

The Telegraph said police in Northern Ireland have identified six individuals suspected of carrying out terrorist attacks, which are believed to have taken place both here and in England. The document does not give details of the six cases.

In a statement, ACC Will Kerr said: "The review of these cases is an ongoing processes. This does involve active criminal investigations and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment further at this stage."

It is understood that the comfort letters were given to suspects in the Harrods car bomb in 1983, which killed six and injured 90, and the 1987 Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen.

UUP MLA Tom Elliott welcomed the news. He said: "It is important that every possible avenue is taken to bring justice for the innocent victims in our society. No one should be above the law, and letters of comfort should not be allowed to prevent prosecutions."

Background

A judge-led review was requested by Prime Minister David Cameron to investigate how more than 200 people were told they were not wanted for paramilitary crimes as part of a peace process deal between Sinn Fein and Tony Blair's Labour government.

Lady Hallett said the scheme was not well publicised, and effectively kept "below the radar", but was not secret. Mr Blair said the letter should not have been issued to Mr Downey.

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