Belfast Telegraph

On The Runs: Man to appear in court on attempted murder charge despite receiving government "comfort letter"

By Christopher Woodhouse

A man is to appear in court this week charged with the attempted murder of a prison officer - even though he claims he received a government 'comfort letter'.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has previously raised concerns about the case of Mick Burns who is alleged to have tried to kill prison officer John Ainsley Carlisle at his north Belfast home in June 1977.

Burns, 66, was arrested and charged in April 2013 with the attempted murder and related firearms offences - despite being part of the controversial on-the-runs scheme.

In May 2013 Adams criticised the arrest of Burns who he said was very ill. At the time he said Burns and Hyde Park bomb-accused John Downey had both been "cleared" as "on the runs" and were among 150 republicans who benefited from a scheme put in place by the two governments.

North Belfast man Burns' lawyers applied for a judicial review of the case in November last year, but this was refused in the High Court.

He is now due to be arraigned before Belfast Crown Court on Thursday on one charge of attempted murder as well as two firearms charges.

Police allege that Burns was shot by the prison officer during the murder bid at the officer's Oldpark Road home.

That night, two men pulled up outside the house on a motorcycle and inquired about buying the property.

When Carlisle appeared, one of the men drew a gun but Carlisle drew his personal protection weapon and shot one of his attackers.

One of the gunmen fired a shot, but it went wide and they fled, dropping a handgun and leaving their motorcycle.

Burns received a so-called 'comfort letter' in 2003 as part of the on-the-runs scheme, saying he was free to return to Northern Ireland without fear of arrest.

Giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last week, former prime minister Tony Blair said that the scheme was neither a secret nor an amnesty.

Blair added that the project was critical to the peace process, although he apologised for the error that led to the collapse of the case against Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey.

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