A high-profile Sinn Fein politician has revealed he received a royal pardon from the Queen during the Troubles.
Gerry Kelly admitted he had been given the Royal Prerogative of Mercy following his conviction for the Old Bailey court bombing in 1973.
The North Belfast MLA, who is running for Westminster in May's general election, was found guilty of causing explosions and sentenced to two life terms after being found with 14 rifles in his possession when he was captured and arrested in London.
His effective 'amnesty' was part of a legal deal to secure his extradition from the Netherlands, where Mr Kelly had been arrested in Holland three years after his escape from the Maze prison in 1983.
He then spent three further years in the Maze before his release in 1989.
The disclosure about the royal pardon came during an exchange with Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister over the contents of a Westminster report on on-the-run republicans.
While the inquiry by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee dealt primarily with those on-the-runs outside the jurisdiction who had not yet been charged with an offence, it also touched on those convicted of offences who were able to return after securing a royal pardon.
Mr Allister said last night he believed the royal pardon was signed by former Secretary of State Douglas Hurd.
"How ironic that the Old Bailey bomber - who showed no mercy to person killed and almost 200 others wounded - should receive a pardon from the Queen whose rule he was bent on destroying," Mr Allister said.
It is believed to be the first time it has been confirmed Mr Kelly received the Royal Prerogative - after denying he had been treated as one of the 'on-the-runs' (OTRs).
"This is the first time we have had confirmation of this and it can only relate to the Old Bailey bombing," Mr Allister told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It is absolutely astounding that the British Government was prepared to grant a pardon in relation to this. What on earth is going on ?"
The revelation came as a series of media interviews were taking place in the Great Hall at Stormont following publication of the NI Affairs committee report on the OTRs scheme.
Mr Allister told reporters he had information that "someone in this building" had a royal pardon.
A short time later the TUV leader was on the BBC NI Talkback programme with Mr Kelly and directly asked him if he had been granted the pardon.
"Actually I have," Mr Kelly said. "If you remember, and I presume you do, I was arrested in Holland, and the Dutch quashed all my sentences and the British agreed to that to get me back here, by the way, and yes, it was after an escape.
"But it wasn't a letter to do with on-the-runs or to do with this scheme at all."
Mr Allister asked him: "From Her Majesty, the one against whom you were leading rebellion, you have a letter of Royal Prerogative of Mercy?"
Mr Kelly said: "The Dutch said they would not extradite me unless the British (Government) quashed the sentences.
"Now it was up to the British (Government) to quash the sentences whatever way they wanted to quash them - if they chose to produce a prerogative then that's their choice.
"I didn't care what way it was done -the point was that I came back to Ireland as a remand prisoner as opposed to someone who was doing this length of sentence, because the Dutch came to the conclusion that it was unjust."
Later Mr Allister added he had been given the information about Mr Kelly some time ago but had never had the opportunity to put it to him.
Julie Hambleton, whose sister was killed by the IRA in the pub bombings in Birmingham on November 21, 1974:
"The basic principle that all are equal before the law has been conveniently and deliberately ignored. The authority of the United Kingdom has blatantly discriminated against the many seeking justice for this crime. The United Kingdom has witnessed... a total corruption of justice in this matter"
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the Omagh bomb on August 15, 1998:
"I am concerned about truth, justice and dignity for those who have suffered. By sending letters of assurance, the possibility of justice is denied to many victims. There seems to be no accountability mechanism that stops politicians from ignoring the wishes of Parliament."
Kevin Skelton, who lost wife Mena in the Omagh bomb:
"At the end of the day we are all victims. Some want justice and are entitled to justice but that will never happen so you have to talk to victims in the middle ground who are prepared to move forward because the past is the past and we can't always keep looking back."
Cat Wilkinson, sister of Aiden Gallagher:
"There are secret deals being done and they say it is for the better good and the victims are always the last thought in their mind... things perhaps have to be done behind closed doors, but not something so major as to let people get away with murder."
David Scott, of the Victims and Survivors Forum, whose father was an indirect victim of the Troubles in 1985:
"The phrase that comes continually to my attention is the word "justice". Justice does not appear to be on the radar currently. There is a deep sense of betrayal since the perpetrator appears to be benefiting much more from the benefits of the Belfast Agreement than the victim."
Ann Travers' sister Mary was murdered by the IRA in 1984:
"It has irritated me whenever I hear people say, 'You should've known about this. It was reported'... We are talking about 1998 when we agreed the Good Friday Agreement. Anything I can do is to help prevent victims from being retraumatised. They have been through enough. I agree that secrecy cannot happen any more."
There are no surprises in this report. And there is an emphasis on what we didn't know - and on what was not disclosed. For instance, until the Downey case emerged, there was no public knowledge that the on-the-runs had been issued with "comfort letters".