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DUP's Paisley urges victims not to raise hopes over police plan to arrest IRA suspects with 'on-the-run' letters

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Concern: Ian Paisley

Concern: Ian Paisley

Concern: Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley has urged caution after it emerged police are planning to arrest a number of 'on the run' IRA suspects who received controversial letters telling them they were no longer wanted by police.

The DUP North Antrim MP welcomed the development but said it is important that victims' expectations are managed.

It comes after the head of the PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB), Detective Chief Superintendent Bobby Singleton, told the News Letter that his team plans to arrest "a number" of the 33 IRA members who were classed as wanted by police before they received a letter of comfort, branded a "get out of jail free card" by former First Minister Peter Robinson.

Tony Blair's 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.

Mr Paisley is on the House of Commons' Northern Ireland Affairs Committee which found the OTR letters were "questionably unlawful" following a nearly year-long inquiry. It was prompted by the collapse in the prosecution of one of the recipients of the letters, John Downey, for the 1982 Hyde Park bombing.

Mr Paisley said: "These letters corrupted justice. Her Majesty's Government has made clear that the so-called OTR letters now have no legal standing.

"It is welcome news that the PSNI legacy branch is pursuing justice in the cases.

"There should be no time limit on justice. The gunman or bomber should never be able to stop looking over their shoulder.

"The impact of this corrupt scheme ran far and wide with the then Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris telling our committee that 95 recipients of the letters were linked to almost 300 murders.

"Finally, my only concern is that victims' expectation levels are increased only to be dashed; therefore the investigators should be careful not to talk up prosecutions and prematurely build up hopes."

Belfast Telegraph