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State urged to reverse legal aid denial in Hyde Park bomb civil action


Suspect: John Downey

Suspect: John Downey

Suspect: John Downey

Justice Secretary Michael Gove is under growing pressure to urgently reconsider a decision to refuse legal aid to families of the Hyde Park bomb.

The DUP's Gavin Robinson has backed calls for the move to be re-examined, as IRA victims' families seek to bring forward a private prosecution.

The East Belfast MP has tabled a question to Mr Gove, the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, asking him to reconsider the decision.

It comes after Sarah Young (38) spoke of her heartache after an application for legal aid to fund a private prosecution against the main suspect was turned down.

Her father, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young, from Wales, was just 19 when he died along with Squadron Quartermaster Corporal Roy Bright (36); Lieutenant Anthony Daly (23) and Trooper Simon Tipper (19) following the July 1982 bomb attack.

Seven horses were also either killed or had to be destroyed because of the severity of their injuries caused by the 25lb nail bomb.

One horse that survived, Sefton, became a symbol of hope.

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Donegal man John Downey (64) was the main suspect, but the case against him spectacularly collapsed at the Old Bailey in 2014 after it emerged that he had received a so-called 'comfort letter' telling him that he was no longer wanted by the police.

A judge ruled that the official communication meant Downey - who had denied murder - could not be prosecuted.

Almost 200 comfort letters were sent to on-the-run republicans assuring them they could return to the UK without fear of arrest - a scheme unionists regard as a de facto IRA amnesty.

A review into the scheme by Lady Justice Hallett said the decision to send Downey a letter, when he was in fact still being sought by police, was a "catastrophic" error.

Ms Young spearheaded the push for a private prosecution, but her application for legal aid - understood to be £150,000 - was rejected.

A Legal Aid Agency spokesman said: "Legal aid can only be granted where the case meets the statutory requirements for funding which has been set in law."

But DUP MP Mr Robinson said: "The Hyde Park families, like so many other victims of terrorism right across the United Kingdom, still seek justice for the murder of their loved ones. They have been denied justice for 34 years. "The Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Justice, must intervene in this disgraceful decision by the Legal Aid Authority not to support the civil action by the victims. Those victims have already been forced to watch as the main suspect walked away from criminal charges because of a comfort letter issued to him by a previous Government.

"The justification now that the provision of legal aid is not in the public interest and the suggestion that armed forces charities should pay for the case have added double insult to injury.

"The Government has said victims deserve and have been promised justice. This would enable every chance for justice to be pursued. Thus it is clearly in the public interest for (the public prosecution) to go ahead."

Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan, who served with one of the victims in the Household Cavalry and who acted as best man at his wedding, also backed Ms Young's campaign.

"This refusal is an incredible decision, given the amount of money in legal aid which is regularly handed over," he said.

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