Belfast Telegraph

Ten key points from the 'on-the-runs' report

Adrian Rutherford breaks down the main findings from the Westminster inquiry

01. Who was driving the OTR scheme?

Sinn Fein raised the issue of OTRs repeatedly with the UK Government and discussed it in talks with Tony Blair and his chief of staff Jonathan Powell.

The report states: "It is clear that Sinn Fein pushed for OTRs to be dealt with at the highest level, and that promises were made by the Prime Minister as a result of the pressure put upon HM Government by Sinn Fein."

It says the scheme should never have taken place in the manner in which it was developed and run.

02. Involvement of civil servants and politicians

The criminal justice system should operate independently of government.

However, politicians, officials and the prosecution authorities all played roles in the OTR scheme.

The report states: "There has been some suggestion that the role of officials and the NIO blurred the principle of the separation of powers, and the public expectation that the criminal justice system should operate separately from government."

03. Who knew about the scheme?

The report refers to several answers to Parliamentary questions which gave some indication about the scheme.

Other answers were "less than helpful and certainly incomplete".

The report disagrees with the findings of last year's Hallett Review by Lady Justice Hallett (left), which said there was sufficient information to alert close observers of political affairs to the fact that some process existed.

It states: "We have found no evidence that, beyond Sinn Fein and the NIO, anyone else knew about the precise use of letters, issued on behalf of HM Government, to alert someone as to whether they were 'wanted' or 'not wanted'."

04. Who was selected for an OTR letter?

Sinn Fein put forward the names of supporters who were strong advocates for the peace process and were key individuals in the party's hierarchy.

However, the report notes that as the scheme matured, Sinn Fein increasingly put forward names from a broader group of people.

The report states: "We have not seen conclusive evidence that convinces us to believe that all 228 on the list were so essential to the peace process and vital to its survival of that process that they were allowed to return to Northern Ireland."

05. So, will the recipients be identified?

Some MPs said the names of those who received letters should be published immediately, provided that publication would not prejudice any future trial or cause a security risk. It was felt that naming the individuals would go some way towards restoring faith in the justice system where it may have been lost due to the way the OTR scheme was run.

Others felt the names should not be published at this point.

06. Are the OTR letters valid?

The letters themselves, and subsequent statements by the PSNI and NIO, left it unclear what "new evidence" would be required for a prosecution to be brought against a recipient of a letter.

The report said this "key issue" should have been addressed before the text of the letters was decided.

Committee members said the issue exposes "the lack of care" taken in designing the scheme.

07. The wording of the letters

The committee expressed surprise that the wording of the letters - "the PSNI are not aware of interest in you by any other police force"- was allowed to stand.

"Surely, the writers of the letters should have realised that this was an incomplete assessment of a person's status," MPs said.

08. The lawfulness of the scheme

It is questionable whether the OTR scheme was lawful, but its existence distorted the legal process.

The report states: "Whilst there is no suggestion that the scheme was actually illegal, it would be difficult to say that the scheme is unquestionably lawful in every case".

09. The John Downey case collapsing

The OTR scheme came into the public spotlight last year when the prosecution of John Downey for murdering four soldiers in the IRA's Hyde Park bombing collapsed.

Downey had been sent one of the letters in error, when in fact police in London were actively seeking him.

The report states: "The judgment in the Downey case served to highlight the inherent risk in the design and subsequent operation of the scheme.

"It created a situation in which the trial of a suspected terrorist could not proceed because the judge concluded that it would be an abuse of process."

10. Lack of transparency and accountability

If the PSNI had known about the entire scheme and had been involved in checking the letters sent to OTRs, it is almost certain that the Downey judgment could have been prevented, MPs said.

They agreed with comments from former Chief Constable Matt Baggott, who told the committee that, with the benefit of hindsight, had they known there were letters, there could have been "a bigger conversation about the implications if a mistake had been made".

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