Police link 95 republicans to 300 murders

Ninety-five suspected terrorists who received so-called letters of comfort issued by the UK government have links to almost 300 murders, police have revealed.

Drew Harris told of investigation into five suspects. Picture: Getty
Drew Harris told of investigation into five suspects. Picture: Getty

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris told a Westminster committee yesterday the recipients had links to 200 murder investigations.

But after he had concluded evidence to the Northern Ireland affairs committee the PSNI issued a clarification that the 200 incidents actually involved the murder of 295 people.

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Committee members are holding an inquiry into the so-called on-the-run (OTR) administrative process, agreed between Sinn Fein and the last Labour government, which saw letters sent to about 190 republicans informing them they were not being sought by the UK authorities.

As part of the process, police were asked to review the status of 228 individuals. Those not being pursued due to a lack of evidence received a letter from the government informing them of their status.

Mr Harris, who appeared with PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott, stressed links with the 95 individuals may not have been strong enough to justify an arrest. “That linkage may only be intelligence,” he said.

He also said five recipients were now under active police investigation on the back of new evidence unearthed by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team.

He was not sure if the new evidence related to the five recipients would effectively annul the letters. “That is not clear as we are speaking today,” he said. He said files would be passed to prosecutors to assess whether charges could be pursued.

Details of the scheme, which started after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, emerged after the collapse of a case against a man accused of the IRA’s Hyde Park bomb in 1982 in which four soldiers died. The prosecution of John Downey, 62, from Donegal, was halted in February after a judge found he was wrongly sent one of the letters, when the Metropolitan Police were hunting him. The judge said his prosecution was an abuse of process. Mr Downey denied the charges.

In the fall-out, the PSNI is reviewing its initial assessment of all 228 individuals to see if any other errors were made or if any fresh evidence has emerged.

Mr Harris said the review, called “Operation Redfield” could take “two to three years”. In regard to the links to the 95 individuals, he added: “All of that is now being assessed.”

The inquiry headed by Lady Justice Hallett, which was ordered by David Cameron, is due to report in the summer.

McConville justice plea

Children of IRA murder victim Jean McConville have vowed to continue fighting for justice as they marked what would have been her 80th birthday.

They planted a tree and released doves during a ceremony at a victims’ support centre in north Belfast.

The memorial came as police said a 56-year-old man had been re-arrested over the 1972 abduction and killing of the Belfast mother-of-ten.

Seven people have been arrested in the last two months, including Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, 65, released on Sunday without charge. Mrs McConville’s son Michael said: “We know it’s going to be a long road to try and get justice.”