Belfast Telegraph

John Downey bail refused despite offer to live with Sinn Fein councillor and £750k surety

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 failed in a new bid to be released from custody.

John Downey was refused bail despite offering unprecedented cash and property sureties worth nearly £750,000 in a hearing on Friday.

He also proposed to live at a Belfast property belonging to an unidentified Sinn Fein councillor in a bid to ease any concerns that he may try to flee.

But a judge at the city's magistrates court ruled that it did not amount to a sufficient change in circumstances.

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 last month.

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.

That lorry is believed to have been the primary target for the attack.

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.

Although the original impression has since degraded, photographs of it were said to have been used in "multiple comparisons".

They included analysis carried out on prints taken from Downey earlier this month, 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.

The prosecution now intends to rely on the fingerprints taken at Gatwick as evidence in the current case.

As Downey appeared at Belfast Magistrates' Court for a renewed bail application, he was supported in the public gallery by Sinn Fein MLAs Gerry Kelly and Caral Ni Chuilin.

Defence barrister Gregory Berry QC revealed that £225,000 in cash could be lodged, along with a further £500,000 in equity.

"I have never encountered that amount of cash and realisable property available by way of sureties to assuage any concerns that Mr Downey would flee to the Republic of Ireland," he said.

"We are not talking Bogota. It is fanciful, to put it bluntly, the objection that there's a risk of flight."

Counsel told the court Downey proposed to live at a property in Belfast belonging to an unnamed Sinn Fein member.

"That individual is a councillor and would not put themselves forward as a suitable address if there was a fear Mr Downey would abscond," he said.

Mr Berry insisted senior party representatives were present because his client is an active supporter of the peace process.

But the prosecution disputed assertions that any trial may be a year away.

Refusing bail, District Judge Peter Magill held: "I'm not persuaded at this point there's been a sufficient change in circumstances."

He remanded Downey in custody to appear again in four weeks time.

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