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5th-Nov-2018 07:39 pm - Suspect in 1982 Hyde Park bombing arrested over earlier fatal blast

John Downey held in Ireland for questioning about 1972 Fermanagh explosion

Rory Carroll
The Guardian
5 Nov 2018

**See also this story on the Hyde Park bombing

John-Downey

John Downey outside the Old Bailey in 2014 (Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex)

A man accused of murdering four soldiers in an IRA bomb attack in London’s Hyde Park in 1982 has been arrested on suspicion of murdering two other soldiers in a separate attack.

Members of the Garda Síochána and the Northern Ireland police service (PSNI) arrested John Downey, 66, on Monday night in Co Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland, in a joint operation. He is due to appear at the high court in Dublin on Tuesday and is expected to face extradition proceedings.

It is understood that Downey was arrested on suspicion of abetting an explosion and of murdering Lance Corporal Alfred Johnston, 32, and Private James Eames, 33, two soldiers from the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), in Co Fermanagh in Northern Ireland in 1972.

The arrest was a dramatic reversal of fortune for Downey. He walked free from the Old Bailey in February 2014 after his trial for the Hyde Park murders collapsed because of a secret letter from the British government that gave him a guarantee he would not face trial, a revelation that caused uproar.

hyde-park

The bodies of horses of the Household Cavalry lie in the road following the Hyde Park bomb attack (Corbis)

Downey’s lawyers argued that he should not face trial because he was one of 187 IRA suspects who were sent letters giving “a clear and unequivocal assurance” that they were no longer wanted by any police force in the UK. The British government gave the assurance in return for the IRA’s promise to decommission its arms as part of the Good Friday peace deal.

Downey had pleaded not guilty to the murder of four soldiers from the Household Cavalry who died in the blast on 20 July 1982, along with seven of their horses. The bomb had been concealed in a car and was detonated as the soldiers rode past on ceremonial duties.

Supporters and relatives of the four soldiers – Trooper Simon Tipper, 19, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young, 19, Squadron Quartermaster Corporal Roy Bright, 36, and Lieutenant Anthony Daly, 23 – condemned Downey’s release and vowed to continue to fight to see justice done.

The victims’ families are pursuing a civil action against Downey, seeking financial compensation and pushing for a finding that he was liable for what happened.

Monday’s arrest, however, related to the deaths of the UDR soldiers a decade before the Hyde Park attack. Johnston and Eames died when an IRA bomb exploded in a car they were checking in Enniskillen on 25 August 1972. Their families have been kept informed of developments.

The PSNI reopened an investigation into the attack several months after the collapse of Old Bailey trial, leading to the joint operation with police in Donegal.

“Members of An Garda Síochána attached to the National Bureau of Criminal Intelligence arrested a 66-year-old male this evening, 5 November, in Donegal on foot of a European arrest warrant and is expected to appear before the high court in Dublin tomorrow 6 November 2018,” the Garda Síochána said in a statement.

The arrest will add pressure on authorities to pursue other alleged IRA men who were given so-called on-the-run (OTR) letters by Tony Blair’s government. Critics labelled them a “get out of jail free card”, but officials said they were part of an administrative scheme that merely informed recipients of statements of fact.

Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, welcomed Monday’s arrest.

2nd-May-2014 12:48 am - On the Run letters could be withdrawn, committee told
BBC
30 April 2014
**Video onsite



1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing in London

On the Run letters could be withdrawn if it is found they were sent in error, according to a key advisor to the attorney general.

Kevin McGinty was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about letters issued to republican paramilitary suspects.

Mr McGinty also said the On The Runs scheme was "not corrupt".

However, he said it was "damaging to the criminal justice system".

On The Runs is the term used to refer to people who are suspected of, but who have not been charged or convicted of paramilitary offences during the Troubles.

Controversy over the scheme emerged in February, when the trial of John Downey, the man charged with carrying out the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing in London, was halted.

The trial judge said the case could not continue because Mr Downey had received a government letter, mistakenly saying he was not wanted for questioning by police.

It later emerged that about 200 letters had been sent to republican paramilitary suspects.

On Wednesday, Mr McGinty, who was involved with the scheme, told the committee he believed letters that were mistakenly issued telling republicans they were not wanted by the police for questioning or arrest could be withdrawn.

Mr McGinty said other letters would not necessarily preclude recipients from prosecution.



The collapse of John Downey's trial last month sparked the On the Runs crisis

He also told the committee the Northern Ireland Office had amended the letter sent to Mr Downey to suggest that he was not wanted in the UK.

He said this had been done on advice that the appropriate checks had been made by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) but accepted that the PSNI was not informed that the wording was changed by the Northern Ireland Office.

Mr McGinty insisted that the On the Runs scheme was lawful, but said it was accepted at the time that it would "damage the criminal justice system".

"I am not going to describe it as corrupt", Mr McGinty said.

The scheme, according to Mr McGinty, began at a time in the peace negotiations when Sinn Féin was being "particularly difficult".

Earlier, former chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan told the committee that he was aware of letters being considered but not aware of them "actually going out".

Asked whether people in other circumstances could ring up the police and ask if they were wanted, Sir Ronnie claimed the political context at the time, which had also seen the early release of paramilitary prisoners, meant that a "completely normal situation" did not apply.

But he added: "I certainly would never have been engaged in a process that would have allowed anyone to escape justice or evade justice."

Sir Ronnie was also adamant no political pressure was exerted on him to ensure certain individuals were not pursued.
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