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Lewis MP: 'Catastrophic' error in John Downey case

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said Theresa Villiers was right to apologise at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today, describing a 'catastrophic' error in the John Downey case.

Ivan Lewis MP. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive/Press Association Images

[Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers] was right to apologise to the family and friends of the Hyde Park victims following the catastrophic error made in the John Downey case. I am also pleased that she was very robust in making it clear that these letters never offered any of their recipients an amnesty from prosecution. This was also the conclusion of the Hallett review. However, at a time when stability in Northern Ireland is so fragile it is essential the government is clear and unambiguous about its response to sensitive issues

– Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ivan Lewis MP

What are 'letters of comfort'?

  • Letters were given to almost 190 republicans suspected of crimes who had fled Northern Ireland
  • They gave assurances that their recipients were not wanted by police
  • The system was agreed between the last Labour administration and Sinn Fein from 2000
  • In February, a case against 62-year-old John Downey fell apart when it emerged he had been given a letter in error
  • In July, a judge-led inquiry found they were systematically flawed in operation but not unlawful in principle
  • Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has promised to clarify their status in the coming days


Villiers: 'No one should rely on' letters of comfort

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said that individuals with so-called 'letters of comfort' would be treated by the authorities in exactly the same way as individuals who did not have one.

No one should take any comfort from these letters. No one should rely on them ...

Decisions of the independent police and prosecuting authorities on whether individuals are prosecuted will be on the basis of decisions made now, not decisions made at some point in the past. And those decisions will be made on the basis of all the available evidence.

To all those who have a letter I say - if the police or prosecuting authorities have evidence which is available today or becomes available in the future to pursue you, they can and will pursue you.

– Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Ms Villiers said she would make a fuller written statement to Parliament in "the coming days".

NI Secretary casts doubt on terror suspects' letters

The Northern Ireland Secretary has said that republicans suspected of crimes committed during the Troubles should "no longer draw comfort" from letters informing them that police were no longer pursuing them.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Theresa Villiers told a Westminster committee that she had to clarify the status of the so-called 'letters of comfort' after a judge-led review called their accuracy into question.

The issue came to light in February when the case against a man accused of the 1982 Hyde Park bombing collapsed because it emerged he had been sent one of the letters in error.

In July, an inquiry found that the letters were flawed and "did not amount to an amnesty" for terror suspects.

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Thatcher government pardoned IRA man who fled jail

An IRA man who escaped prison more than 50 years ago was given a royal pardon by Margaret Thatcher's government, official records from 1985 revealed.

Donal Donnelly fled Belfast's Crumlin Road jail - which he dubbed Europe's Alcatraz - on Boxing Day 1960 while serving a sentence for membership of the armed group during its 1950s border campaign.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Douglas Hurd agreed to pardon Donnelly. Credit: PA

Former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hurd, part of a Conservative government scarred by republican violence, agreed to use the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in May 1985.

His decision was made ahead of landmark political talks on British co-operation with the Irish Government.

Afterwards Donnelly lived openly in the Irish Republic - and even wrote a book about his escape.


Large, white HGV seen at closed service station

A reporter for Chard and Ilminster News has tweeted this photo purporting to show the closed service station at Southfield roundabout.

A large heavy goods vehicle can be seen in the background surrounded by police and ambulances.

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