Belfast Telegraph

Pub bomb victims 'slapped in face'

Victims of the IRA Birmingham pub bombings have claimed secret letters telling people they were not wanted for Troubles crimes make a mockery of the justice system.

Messages sent to around 200 IRA on the runs informed them that they were not wanted by police. The Government insists these did not constitute immunity from prosecution.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) scheme emerged during the collapse of the trial of alleged Hyde Park bomber John Downey after police mistakenly sent him one of the letters even though he was sought by the Metropolitan Police.

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine died, said: "We are incandescent with frustration, anger and more grief.

"It is almost as if we are re-living the horrors of losing our sister all over again and being slapped in the face."

She told BBC Radio Ulster: "It just beggars belief. The benchmark of any civilised society can be measured by the quality of its justice system.

"The on the run letters have made an absolute mockery of our justice system."

Paddy Hill received a life sentence for the atrocity but his conviction was later quashed.

His spokesman, Paul McLaughlin, project manager at the Glasgow-based Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, said he denied making comments attributed to Mr Hill which suggested that police sent secret letters to two of the men suspected of involvement in the pub bombings telling them they would not be prosecuted.

"He had no knowledge of, nor saw letters to anyone involved in the Birmingham pub bombings," Mr McLaughlin added.

The matter is to be brought before the West Midlands chief constable by the local police commissioner.

Bob Jones, West Midlands police and crime commissioner, yesterday tweeted: "Will raise with cc tomorrow. I have not heard of these letters other than via news."

Mr Hill told the Birmingham Mail: "Many people are sweating, not knowing what's going on. It might prevent further admissions of guilt because they will now wonder if they will face prosecution."

Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, established after the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement which largely ended the 30-year conflict, was thrown into crisis by the Downey revelations last Tuesday.

The oyster farmer, 62, from County Donegal, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of four soldiers from the Household Cavalry who died in the blast on 20 July 1982 along with seven of their horses.

The bomb had been concealed in a car and was detonated as the soldiers rode past on ceremonial duties.

He was detained in May last year at Gatwick airport en route to Greece and spent nine months in custody awaiting trial.

But he dramatically walked free after an Old Bailey judge stopped the case because a letter had been erroneously sent to him from the Government prior to his arrest saying he was not wanted by the police.

The message, which gave no guarantee that future evidence would not emerge linking him to Hyde Park, was sent as part of political talks between Sinn Fein and Tony Blair's administration linked to the consolidation of the peace process.

The revelation that many others received similar letters prompted outrage from victims of terrorism who branded them "get out of jail free" cards.

Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson said he had been kept in the dark and threatened to resign. He withdrew the threat after Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a judge-led inquiry.

Nobody has been brought to justice for the killing of 21 and injuring of 182 people in Birmingham on November 21, 1974.

Mr Hill was jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings in 1975 along with Hugh Callaghan, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker.

The Birmingham Six, as they became known, spent 16 years in prison before their convictions were quashed in 1991.

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