OAP's legal bid to have 'on-the-run' scheme quashed
The Northern Ireland Office has a duty to confirm if anyone suspected of involvement in the Shankill bomb has received a so-called 'comfort letter', a High Court action has heard.
Pensioner Elizabeth Morrison – who lost three members of her family in the IRA bomb – is taking the action to quash the controversial scheme for 'on-the-run' (OTR) terror suspects. It was adjourned after its first day of hearing opened at Belfast High Court yesterday.
The 79-year-old is seeking to have the NIO scheme quashed, the 187 letters which were sent out quashed, clarification over whether any of the Shankill bombers received a comfort letter as well as disclosure of any of the documents pertaining to any of the Shankill bombers involved with the scheme.
She was moved to act after Donegal man John Downey was cleared of the Hyde Park bombing earlier this year. The judgment following the case revealed that he had been in possession of a letter from the NIO which said he was not being sought by the authorities. It also emerged that 187 OTRs had received similar letters, and a media report alleged that one of those recipients had been suspected of involvement with the Shankill bomb.
The NIO has never released the names of the 187 OTRs who received letters.
There has been speculation that people suspected of the Shankill bomb, the Tullyvalley massacre and the Kingsmills shootings are among this number.
Yesterday at Belfast High Court, barrister Alan Kane QC acting for Mrs Morrison said the NIO "has a duty" to confirm to his client whether anyone suspected of the Shankill bomb received a letter.
He described the letters as derived from evidence "frozen in time" and says they take away the opportunity of questioning and forensic testing that an arrest allows.
Mr Kane went on to slam the government inquiry headed up by Lady Justice Hallett into the OTR scheme as "toothless".
Counsel for the NIO told the court he was not in a position to confirm nor deny that anyone suspected of the Shankill bomb received a letter.
He said many of the issues being brought by Mrs Morrison were already being addressed by the ongoing inquiries, in particular the House of Common Select Committee investigation.
Mr Justice Treacy expressed concern at the possibility of people who have been convicted having received letters.
However, he said he felt the application for a judicial review was premature. He told the court that the case would be adjourned until the inquiries have concluded.
Outside court, victims campaigner Willie Frazer said families of some of the 11 workmen murdered by the IRA at Kingsmills in 1976 were considering taking a judicial review of the OTR scheme.