Belfast Telegraph

Downey could face bill running into millions after judge rules he was actively involved in Hyde Park bomb

John Downey
John Downey
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

The man found by the High Court to have been actively involved in the 1982 Hyde Park bomb attack in which four British soldiers were killed could now be forced to hand over millions in damages and legal costs.

Relatives of the victims won the first stage of a damages claim after Mrs Justice Yip ruled that John Downey was an "active participant" in the IRA atrocity and was jointly responsible with others for the attack, which left 31 other people injured.

Downey has always denied involvement.

He faced four counts of murder and carrying out an act with intent to cause an explosion at the Old Bailey in 2014 in relation to the blast. But the trial dramatically collapsed after it was revealed that Downey had mistakenly been given an on-the-run (OTR) letter by then prime minister Tony Blair's government.

Downey is currently in custody awaiting trial on other murder charges relating to the killings of two UDR soldiers in Enniskillen in 1972.

On Wednesday night, a spokeswoman for Mr Blair reiterated the former Labour leader's apology for the error.

Mr Blair previously said in 2015 that the peace process would probably have collapsed without the OTR scheme for fugitive IRA members. His Labour government sent around 200 letters to republicans assuring them that they were not being pursued by the UK authorities following requests from Sinn Fein during peace talks.

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An investigation was launched when Downey's 2014 trial collapsed after he received one of the OTR 'letters of comfort' in error. Commenting on the OTR letter Mr Downey received, a spokesperson for Tony Blair said he accepted responsibility for the letter being sent, even though it was not seen or signed off by him, as it was "fully covered" in Lady Hallett's inquiry report into the scheme.

"That inquiry also made clear that the scheme 'did not give terrorist suspects an 'amnesty''," added the spokesperson.

"Mr Blair has previously apologised for the error that the letter to Downey was sent and also to those who had suffered as a result."

Mark Tipper, the brother of Trooper Simon Tipper
Mark Tipper, the brother of Trooper Simon Tipper

The IRA car bomb left in South Carriage Drive killed the four soldiers as they paraded from their barracks to Buckingham Palace in July 1982.

Lieutenant Dennis Daly (23) and Trooper Simon Tipper (19) were killed instantly, while Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young (19) and Squadron Quartermaster Corporal Roy Bright (36) died from their injuries within days.

Seven horses had to be put down and another horse, Sefton, survived terrible injuries.

Downey (67), from Creeslough in Co Donegal, did not play any part in the High Court case but filed a written defence denying any involvement in the attack.

Announcing her conclusions in London yesterday, Mrs Justice Yip said: "This was a deliberate, carefully planned attack on members of the military. I have found that the defendant was an active participant in the concerted plan to detonate the bomb, with the intent to kill or at least to cause serious harm to members of the Household Cavalry."

Yesterday's case will now progress to a second stage to determine the amount of damages to be awarded to the relatives of the victims.

Sarah-Jane Young, the daughter of Lance Corporal Young
Sarah-Jane Young, the daughter of Lance Corporal Young

In 2009 a civil case taken up by the relatives of those killed in the Real IRA Omagh bomb of 1998, when a dissident republican car bomb claimed the lives of 29 people, ruled that four men were liable for the attack.

The judge ordered former Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt, who is terminally ill with cancer, former Real IRA director of operations Liam Campbell, alleged bomb co-ordinator Colm Murphy and Real IRA bomber Seamus Daly to pay a total of £1.6m in damages to the 12 relatives who took the case.

A fifth man, the late Seamus McKenna, was cleared of liability for the bombing.

In March this year, McKevitt, Campbell and Murphy were declared bankrupt for failing to pay the £1.6m to the victims.

The High Court ruling in Dublin was the first time in the world that terrorists were declared bankrupt for refusing to compensate their victims.

They were also ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of euros in costs for the victims.

The aftermath of the bomb
The aftermath of the bomb

Daly was declared bankrupt in a separate legal battle in Belfast in June. It was the first time that a paramilitary was declared bankrupt in Northern Ireland for not paying compensation to victims.

The case against Daly was taken in Northern Ireland because he was the only one of the four living north of the border.

It was expected that the assets of all four men would be liquidated and the resultant money would be transferred to the Omagh families.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden died in the Omagh blast, said yesterday's ruling was "fantastic news".

"I'm delighted to hear it. It is only the second case ever after our own. I've never met the Hyde Park families, but I would like to. I hope this has brought a closure of sorts to them," he said.

In October 2018, the High Court heard that Downey had transferred part of his assets to his wife, including a share in their home in Co Donegal, in an apparent attempt to avoid paying any damages awarded against him.

Irish Land Registry documents revealed that Downey removed his name from ownership of the house, worth €300,000, on June 7 2017, just as lawyers for victims of the Hyde Park bombing were preparing the civil case against him.

Downey made much of his money by setting up a business supplying oysters from Donegal to the retail and restaurant trade. He ran the business with his wife until 2011.

In a ruling after Downey's criminal case collapsed, trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney said the assurance that he was not wanted by police, given by Mr Blair's government under the terms of the controversial OTR scheme, was "wholly wrong".

Lawyers representing Sarah-Jane Young, the daughter of L/Cpl Young, who brought the civil case against Downey, said justice had finally prevailed.

Her solicitor Matthew Jury said in a statement the victims' relatives invited the Government to meet them to "ensure it never fails them or other victims or veterans again".

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Mr Jury said: "Sarah-Jane and the families here today were told they'd never get justice, that they should put the past behind them and move on. They and thousands whose lives were devastated by the IRA are the forgotten victims.

"Yesterday, many responsible for the most awful acts of terrorism on British soil were living out their days in peaceful retirement, believing that they would never be held to account for their crimes, but justice has prevailed."

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