Belfast Telegraph

Convicted loyalist double killer 'to use IRA on the runs letters scheme in legal bid for freedom'

By Alan Erwin

A convicted loyalist double killer is set to use the IRA on-the-runs letters scheme as part of a renewed legal bid to be freed from jail, it emerged today.

Robert Rodgers claims he suffered discrimination by being refused a Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) while nearly 200 republicans received government assurances they were not facing arrest or prosecution.

Following revelations that emerged at the collapsed trial of Donegal man John Downey for the Hyde Park bombing, lawyers for Rodgers wrote to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers seeking clarification on what forms of "special dispensation" were available for terrorist-related offences.

With a new judicial review challenge listed for hearing in May, a reply to their letter is to be provided by the end of this month.

In the High Court today a judge was told 13 RPMs have reportedly been granted under a broader scheme involving so-called on-the-runs suspected of terrorist crime.

Mr Downey strenuously denied allegations against him over the 1982 bomb attack which killed four soldiers in London.

The case against him was thrown out due to a letter wrongly telling him he was not wanted over any crimes - despite an arrest warrant having being issued by the Metropolitan Police.

A political storm erupted when it emerged that a deal was struck between the last Labour government and Sinn Fein which saw 187 such letters issued to republicans.

Rodgers' legal team are now attempting to gain full information about any policy operated by the government.

His challenge to being denied an RPM was reinstated following an appeal against a previous High Court ruling.

The 60-year-old, formerly of Tierney Gardens, Belfast, was found guilty last year of murdering Eileen Doherty in September 1973.

Ms Doherty, a 19-year-old Catholic, was shot three times after her taxi was hijacked by gunmen in the south of the city.

Despite being jailed for life, Rodgers could be free early next year under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

He has already served another prison sentence for the killing of a Catholic man a year after the murder of Ms Doherty.

Ciaran McElroy, 18, was shot in September 1974 on Park End Street, Belfast.

According to Rodgers' lawyers he should be considered for an RPM because of the life-term completed for that troubles-related murder.

In court today Mr Justice Stephens was briefed on correspondence sent to the Secretary of State following the outcome in the Downey case.

Directing that a reply should be received by March 24, the judge listed the case for a three-day hearing.

Outside the court Rodgers' solicitor, Paul Pierce of KRW Law said: "In the course of these judicial review proceedings we have been told that Mr Rodgers would not be eligible for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy or any other form of special dispensation.

"What we are now asking the Secretary of State to do is to clarify what she meant by that."

Mr Pierce added: "Mr Rodgers makes the case that he is the victim of discrimination, and following decisions that have been taken regarding a significant number of republicans he believes that his allegations of unequal treatment have been made out.

"In light of the Downey case it has raised further questions and concerns about the nature of discussions and negotiations that were taking place, and it would appear that the outworking of these discussions and negotiations favoured a certain group of individuals at the exclusion of others." 

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