Belfast Telegraph

On the runs: Judge investigating scheme dealing with fugitive republicans pledges 'rigorous' probe

A judge investigating the Government 'on-the-runs' scheme dealing with fugitive republicans has pledged to conduct a "rigorous" probe.

Lady Justice Heather Hallett - appointed to conduct the review ordered by the Prime Minister - has been promised full co-operation and access to all relevant material by official departments and agencies.

She said: "Although appointed by Government, I will carry out my task independently and impartially."

David Cameron announced the inquiry after the collapse of a case against a man accused of the IRA's Hyde Park bomb in 1982 - an attack that killed four soldiers.

The prosecution of John Downey, 62, from Co Donegal, was halted last month when it emerged he was wrongly sent a so-called letter of assurance informing him the authorities in the UK were not looking for him.

Downey, who was wanted by detectives in London, had denied the murder of the four soldiers.

Contention intensified when it emerged that around 190 letters had been sent to on-the-runs (OTRs) under a scheme agreed by the previous Labour government and Sinn Fein.

Lady Justice Hallett said: "I intend to conduct a full and rigorous examination of the administrative scheme from its inception to date."

She will:

:: Seek independent expert assistance to examine relevant police databases relating to all recipients of letters of assurance.

:: Examine documentation relating to the scheme and individuals held by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Metropolitan Police, Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Office, Cabinet Office and the Attorney General.

:: Interview politicians, civil servants and police officers involved in the on-the-runs administrative scheme.

She said: "I have been promised full co-operation and access to all relevant material by the relevant government departments and agencies.

"No individual or organisation is on trial. However, I am seeking to establish the facts and, where necessary, accountability in relation to what happened, ie, how the scheme evolved and who was or is responsible for its operation."

She said while it was a matter for police and prosecutors to determine whether evidence exists to warrant an arrest, it was a matter of fact whether somebody was wanted or whether names appeared on a database.

Lady Justice Hallett added: "As well as the independent analysis of the databases, I intend to sample a number of case files during my examination of police and prosecution records, to ascertain whether or not any other recipients of the letters have been told they are not of interest to the police when in fact they are."

Further reading

Top female judge leads inquiry into OTR letters

On-the-run letters scheme over, vows Secretary of State Theresa Villiers 

On the runs: Peter Robinson says Haass talks issues such as flags, parades and past still need addressed

Stormont crisis: Peter Robinson lifts resignation threat over on the run republicans following judicial review announcement  

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