Belfast Telegraph

Double murder case in which John Downey is a suspect reopened by police

By Darwin Templeton

Prosecutors are re-examining a double murder in 1972 in which Donegal man John Downey is a suspect.

Evidence linked the 62-year-old to a bomb attack that claimed the lives of two UDR soldiers in Enniskillen 42 years ago.

Lance Corporal Alfred Johnston and Private James Eames were killed when an IRA device exploded in a car they were checking at the Cherrymount roundabout.

Earlier this year Downey was controversially cleared of involvement in the Hyde Park bombings in London after he produced a "letter of comfort" given to him by the Government.

But the judgement revealed that the PSNI had uncovered evidence connecting him to the attack in Northern Ireland 10 years earlier.

An HET report stated that a piece of adhesive tape was recovered from a battery pack used in the device.

RUC detectives matched fingerprints on it to Downey using a sample supplied to them by Gardai.

But the tape went missing and in 1985 prosecutors decided not to seek his extradition from the Republic.

However the piece of evidence was rediscovered in 2008 by the PSNI, who alerted the Historical Enquiries Team.

They in turn were planning to issue a fresh alert for Downey's arrest -- but were shocked to discover that months earlier he had been issued with a "letter of comfort" by the Government.

His name had been put on a list by Sinn Fein as part of the "on-the-runs" administrative scheme and checked by the PSNI's Operation Rapid.

When the PSNI were told that the missing piece of tape had been found, Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter, who ran the Rapid team, alerted Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan.

In an email he wrote: "The discovery of new evidence in this case may provide an opportunity to recommence an investigation which may lead to a potential prosecution."

He added: "The issues of integrity highlighted in the PPS direction of 1985 would also need to be reviewed to determine what impact this would have on the rediscovered evidence."

In 2010, a senior PSNI officer reviewed the case and decided that there was insufficient evidence to start criminal proceedings.

But Downey hit the headlines three years later, when he was arrested at Gatwick airport and charged with the Hyde Park bombings in which four soldiers died.

But when he went on trial at the Old Bailey, the case was thrown out when he produced his "letter of assurance" from the Government.

The collapse caused a political storm which threatened to bring down the Stormont political institutions.

Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the Hallett Review, which concluded that the scheme was not an amnesty, but had no proper structure or policy in place.

Amid the furore, members of the Johnston family met the PSNI to seek an update on the status of the investigation into the Enniskillen murders in 1972.

Senior officers re-examined the case -- and have now passed the file onto the Public Prosecution Service.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers told Westminster that people who received "letters of comfort" should no longer place any reliance on them.

"Decisions about investigation and prosecution will be taken simply on the basis of the intelligence and/or evidence relating to whether or not the person concerned committed offences," she said.

In an interview after the collapse of the Hyde Park case, Downey said he was a committed supporter of the peace process.

He said: "There are victims on all sides, you know there are a lot of republican graves throughout the north as well and I think the biggest thing we can do, as far as the people who were killed are concerned, is to move forward and leave it in a way that it never happens again."

He added: "At the end of the day, I am a republican who wants to move forward in peace and harmony with the unionist community."

A PPS spokesperson said: "We can confirm that we have received a file from PSNI in relation to the murders of Alfred Johnston and James Eames.

"As this file is under consideration, it would not be appropriate to comment further".

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