Belfast Telegraph

Alleged IRA bomber John Downey denied bail for second time

Murder suspect John Downey arrives at a previous court hearing.
Murder suspect John Downey arrives at a previous court hearing.

By Alan Erwin

A 67-year-old man charged with murdering two British soldiers in 1972 has been refused bail once again.

John Downey's lawyers argued he should be released because he only faces a maximum of two years in prison if convicted - reducing any risk of flight.

But a judge at Belfast Magistrates' Court ruled on Monday there was not a sufficient change of circumstances to grant the new application.

Downey is facing prosecution for the car bomb attack which killed Ulster Defence Regiment members Alfred Johnston and James Eames in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.

The accused, with an address in Creeslough, Co Donegal, was detained in October 2018 under a European Arrest Warrant.

He fought a battle against extradition from the Republic of Ireland before handing himself in to the authorities in October.

Lance Corporal Johnston and Private Eames died in an explosion on the Irvinestown Road in August 1972.

They were carrying out checks on a car when a command wire initiated device was detonated, killing them instantly.

The bomb went off as a truck carrying 13 off-duty soldiers approached, blowing it onto its side and injuring some of the troops inside.

Downey is also charged with aiding and abetting an explosion likely to endanger life.

A previous court was told his fingerprint was allegedly found on insulating tape used to construct the device.

Analysis was carried out on prints taken from Downey following his extradition, and also after his arrest at Gatwick Airport in 2013 for the 1982 bombing at London's Hyde Park.

He had been due to stand trial for the murder of four Royal Household Cavalry men in the Hyde Park attack.

That case collapsed after it emerged that he received a letter of assurance from the British Government that he was not wanted for any offences.

In October Downey was denied bail at the High Court amid concerns he could flee.

At that time the judge held there was a risk he could attempt to abscond.

Downey's age was cited, along with the possibility that, if ultimately found guilty, he may remain behind bars until his death.

However, defence lawyers claimed the High Court was wrongly told the alleged crimes occurred before the period covered by the Good Frday Agreement early release provisions.

During a renewed application Gregory Berry QC contended that all terror-related murder offences up to 1998 qualify for the two-year term served in prison.

"Mr Downey would qualify under the 1998 Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act for early release if, of course, he is convicted," the barrister said.

"There's no indication this legislation had a starting point, it was designed to deal with any Troubles-related offending."

Prosecution counsel insisted Downey is still not a suitable candidate for bail.

He also questioned whether the new legal point would have led to a different outcome at the High Court.

Following submissions District Judge Fiona Bagnall refused bail once more, it was confirmed on Monday.

Downey was remanded back into custody, to appear again by video-link on January 6.

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