Hyde Park: John Downey says unionists knew about On the Runs letters (BBC News Northern Ireland)

Hyde Park bomb suspect John Downey has insisted that unionists knew about the secret On the Runs letters in his first interview since his trial collapsed.

He walked free from court last month after it emerged he had received a government letter telling him he was not wanted by any UK police force.

He was one of about 200 paramilitary suspects who received the letters.

Mr Downey, who had denied murdering four soldiers in the 1982 IRA attack, has spoken to the Donegal Democrat.

The 62-year-old told his local newspaper: “As far as the unionists saying that they didn’t know about the letters, or course they knew.

“I got the letter in 2007, having applied through Sinn Féin in 2003, four years later the application was granted as part of an ongoing process,” he said.
‘Breach of agreement’

The County Donegal resident added that he received his letter a few days after the Northern Ireland Assembly was set up.

Devolution was restored to Stormont on 8 May 2007, ending almost five years of direct rule by Westminster.

“As far as the letter is concerned, this was an arrangement between the British and Irish government and my arrest was a breach of the agreement between the British and Irish government,” Mr Downey said.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson threatened to resign over the revelations, but agreed to remain in his post after the government agreed to set up a judge-led inquiry.

Lady Justice Hallett has been appointed to conduct an independent review of the administrative scheme for dealing with On the Runs.

Mr Downey was arrested at Gatwick Airport last May, while en route to Greece.
‘Not wanted’

He was later charged and faced a trial in London, but the trial collapsed when details of the letter were revealed.

Mr Downey told the Donegal Democrat: “The letter states to me that I am not wanted by the PSNI or any police force in the UK.”

In his judgement halting the case, Mr Justice Sweeney said Mr Downey had received an assurance in 2007 that he would not face criminal charges, despite the fact that police in Northern Ireland knew he was still wanted by Scotland Yard.

Although police soon realised they had made a mistake, the assurance was never withdrawn.

“I am told that that the reason for my arrest was that I had come up on the Police National Computer (PNC),” Mr Downey told the newspaper.

“I had been in and out of Birmingham airport on numerous occasions. I’d also been in Stansted and then on the last day they decided to arrest me.

“I refuse to believe that if I was on the PNC that I would have gone through all those airports, including Derry and Belfast, because that is within their jurisdiction, without being picked up.”
‘Peace and harmony’

The Hyde Park bomb attack killed Squadron Quartermaster Corporal Roy Bright, Lieutenant Anthony Daly, Trooper Simon Tipper and Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young on 20 July 1982.

Mr Downey, who was convicted of IRA membership in 1974, had denied murdering the soldiers and conspiring to cause an explosion.

The County Clare native told the newspaper that he had joined the paramilitary organisation during the civil rights movement, because of the unrest that followed marches in Belfast and Londonderry.

However, he said that for many years, he has been a committed supporter of the Northern Ireland peace process.

“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.”


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