Belfast Telegraph

Almost 300 murders linked to 95 recipients of OTR letters

By David Young

Ninety-five recipients of so-called letters of comfort issued by the Government have links to almost 300 terrorist murders, police have revealed.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris told a Westminster committee that the individuals had links to 200 murder investigations.

But after Mr Harris had concluded giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the PSNI issued a statement of clarification that those 200 incidents actually involved the murder of 295 people. Committee members are holding an inquiry into the contentious on-the-run (OTR) administrative process, agreed between Sinn Fein and the last Labour Government, which saw letters sent to about 190 republicans, informing them they were not being sought by the authorities in the UK.

As part of the process, police were asked to review the status of 228 individuals to assess if they were either wanted or not at that particular point in time. Those who were not being actively pursued due to a lack of sufficient evidence, received a letter from the government officially informing them of their status.

Mr Harris, who was appearing alongside PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott, stressed that the links with the 95 individuals may not have been strong enough to justify an arrest.

Mr Harris also said five individuals in possession of letters were now under active police investigation, on the back of new evidence unearthed by the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team. The senior officer said he was not sure if the new evidence related to the five recipients would effectively annul the letters.

Details of the scheme, which started running in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, emerged after the collapse of a case against a man accused of the IRA's Hyde Park bomb in 1982 – an attack that killed four soldiers.

The prosecution of John Downey, from Co Donegal, over the Hyde Park outrage was halted in February, after a judge found he had been wrongly sent one of the letters, when in fact the Metropolitan Police were looking for him.

As well as the committee investigation into the OTR scheme, a judge is carrying out another review. The inquiry headed by Lady Justice Hallett and ordered by David Cameron, is due to report in the summer.

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