Belfast Telegraph

Theresa Villiers: no law change to annul OTR letters

By Chris Kilpatrick

The Secretary of State has rejected calls for new legislation to formally annul letters sent to republican on-the-runs.

Theresa Villiers said new laws would be no more effective than statements she has already made confirming the letters should not be relied on. And she admitted more cases in which letters were sent in error are likely to emerge.

She spoke after an inquest into the murder of father-of-two Gareth O'Connor was halted after it emerged a suspect had been wrongly issued with a letter assuring him he was not being sought by police.

It was the second such error following the collapse of the trial of Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey last year.

Mr O'Connor's family have called for a police investigation into Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly's role in the issuing of one of the letters to a man suspected of involvement in Mr O'Connor's murder. In the Commons yesterday, DUP MP Ian Paisley called for the full publication of all recipients of the letters and legislation to "formally annul" their value and "put meat on the bones" on Ms Villiers' statement that they are without value.

He also called for compensation for the families of victims of crime whose cases have been affected by the letters.

The OTR letters scheme was drawn up under the Labour government at the request of Sinn Fein and saw about 200 letters sent to on-the-runs, assuring them they were not being actively pursued by the UK authorities.

Ms Villiers said: "It is clear to me that the most effective means to guard against future collapses of trials and future abuse of processes defence is to issue a clear statement indicating to anyone who received a letter under the scheme that it is not safe to rely on these letters, that they should not be relied on and that is what I did," she said.

Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Tom Elliott said the public must be told how many letters were sent to people suspected of crimes after 1998.

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