Belfast Telegraph

Latest OTRs row beggars belief

Editor's Viewpoint

When he gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee earlier this month, former Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted that the controversial on-the-run letters were crucial to the peace process and that it might have collapsed without them.

Whatever anyone might think of that argument, it is clear that the flawed implementation of the scheme has shaken confidence in the process after it was revealed that a second murder suspect had been wrongly given one of the documents, which said he was not facing the prospect of prosecution.

An inquest into the death of a Co Armagh man Gareth O'Connor, whose body was dragged from Newry canal two years after he disappeared, has been halted after the coroner was told that the chief suspect in the murder inquiry had been given one of the letters.

It beggars belief that this letter was issued in 2008 even though the on-the-run scheme only applied to paramilitary crimes committed before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, a full 10 years earlier.

How could the Secretary of State at the time, Shaun Woodward, and the police make such a fundamental blunder? The police have apologised to the family of Mr O'Connor, but that is little consolation to them.

It is evident that both the Secretary of State and the PSNI must give a full explanation of what went wrong.

And it is equally clear that Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, a conduit for many of the letters, also has many questions to answer. Since his party was centrally involved in negotiating the scheme in the first place he must have known that no letter could be issued to a suspect in a crime committed after 1998.

He insists he did not know the name of the suspect nor the crime he is thought to have been involved in, but how then did he make contact with him to hand over the document?

It is little wonder that Mr O'Connor's family are outraged by this latest revelation. The family had contacted Mr Kelly to enlist his help in finding Gareth's killers and he had promised to help them get justice. Now they find he passed on a so-called letter of comfort to the main suspect.

This case should give fresh impetus to the NI Affairs Committee's investigation of the OTR letter scheme. Most of all, it should make everyone question how and why justice has been circumvented to date.

Belfast Telegraph


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