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95 people with 'On the Run' letters are linked to 300 murders

A report into the so-called ‘On The Runs’ letters was published today
Mar 24th 2015, 3:49 PM 7,062 30

A UK PARLIAMENTARY committee report into the ‘On The Run’ letters issued by the British government was published today, and its findings are damning of the ‘administrative system’ that had been in place.

The Committee for Northern Irish Affairs had been investigating the 187 ‘comfort letters’ sent to suspected Republicans since April 2014. Its conclusion? That the lawfulness of the letters was ‘questionable’, but also that the system involved ‘should never have taken place’.

Other findings of today’s report include:

  • That the scheme distorted the legal process
  • If it had to exist, the scheme should have been made public
  • It should be ensured that the letters no longer have any legal effect
  • The PSNI believe that 95 recipients of the letters are potentially linked to almost 300 murders

Laurence Robertson MP, Chair of the Committee stated that the committee’s responsibility was to ‘serve the victims and their relatives’.

laurence Laurence Robertson Source: BBC

“If any scheme had been put in place at all, which is questionable, it should have been properly introduced and correctly administered,” he said.

Regardless of the intentions, this scheme has caused further hurt to people who have suffered far too much already, and has led to further suspicions being raised.

The ‘On The Runs’ were Republicans in Northern Ireland who were suspected of terrorist crimes committed between 1967 and 1998 but who had never actually been charged.

The letters were issued subsequent to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which allowed for anyone convicted of a paramilitary crime in the North to be granted early release.

As the Agreement didn’t apply to those suspects who were never charged, the letters were issued to provide ‘comfort’ to the people in question that they weren’t wanted by security forces in any way.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was among those who gave evidence to the inquiry. He rejected claims that the letters were unlawful and said the scheme was essential for the success of the peace process.

The letters first came to light when they were used successfully by Republican John Downey to collapse his trial for the 1982 Hyde Park bombing in London in February of last year.

John Downey John Downey Source: Belfast Telegraph

Downey had been issued an ‘on the run’ letter in error in 2007 assuring him that he would never be tried for the crime.

The PSNI, who were involved in checking the letters but claim they knew nothing of their content before 2011, come in for some strong criticism in the report, not least in that the role they performed in the process was a ‘political, not a policing one’.

Police boss urges coroner shake-up PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton Source: Brian Lawless

Responding to the report’s findings, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said “It is important to remember that the police played a crucial role but did not have an overview of the administrative scheme.”

I want to repeat our commitment to dealing with the past professionally and comprehensively
But I have to balance this responsibility with my requirement to keep people safe in the present day.
As I have said before, this process goes far beyond policing.
We will continue to play our part and continue to encourage others to play theirs.

The full 111-page report can be found here.

Read: Police investigating ‘six key IRA suspects’ who received on-the-run letters

Read: Family: Gerry Adams told us our brother’s killers would not be brought to police

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Cianan Brennan

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