A SENIOR Sinn Fein member accused of murdering four British solders in the 1982 IRA bombing at London’s Hyde Park is back in court on Wednesday.
John Anthony Downey, 61, of Carrigart, County Donegal, is charged with the murders of Roy John Bright, Dennis Richard Anthony Daly, Simon Andrew Tipper and Geoffrey Vernon Young.
The four Household Cavalry members were killed on route to Buckingham Palace.
The 61-year-old appeared at the Old Bailey two weeks ago but no bail application was made and he was remanded in custody.
He is due back in court on Wednesday where a bail application could be made.
Downey, who is originally from Co Cavan but has been living in Co Donegal, will appear at a preliminary hearing before Mr Justice Sweeney at London’s Old Bailey.
Mr Downey – who was arrested at Gatwick Airport after stepping off a plane earlier last month – is also charged with intending to cause an explosion likely to endanger life.
At his last hearing, he appeared in the court via videolink from Belmarsh prison.
The arrest of Downey provoked a strong reaction from Sinn Fein who called for his immediate release.
However, his arrest for the bomb outrage was welcomed by unionist politicians.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly said Sinn Féin member Downey was a “long-time supporter of the Peace Process” and should be released.
Gerry Kelly added: “The decision to arrest and charge him in relation to IRA activities in the early 1980s is vindictive, unnecessary and unhelpful.
“It will cause anger within the republican community.
“Clearly, if John Downey had been arrested and convicted previously he would have been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
“As part of the Weston Park negotiation, the British Government committed to resolving the position of OTRs [‘On the Runs’].
“John Downey received a letter from the NIO in 2007 stating that he was not wanted by the PSNI or any British police force.
“Despite travelling to England on many occasions, now – six years on – he finds himself before the courts on these historic charges.
“This development represents bad faith and a departure from what was previously agreed by both governments.
“John Downey needs to be released and allowed to return home to his family.”
If convicted, Downey will only have to serve two years and two months in jail as the bomb attack happened prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
Downey is the second leading republican to be arrested in relation to historical IRA activities recently.
In April, republican Mickey Burns was charged with the attempted of a prison officer in north Belfast in the 1970s.
A court heard how ‘Waking The Dead’ detectives linked DNA from a motorbike helmet to a would-be terrorist assassin in Belfast.
Over 35 years after a murder bid on off-duty prison officer, fingerprint and DNA evidence led PSNI Serious Crime Branch detectives to 64-year-old Burns living in sheltered housing in north Belfast.
Frail and balding, Burns faced Belfast Magistrates Court dressed in a blue jumper and open neck shirt two days after he was arrested and taken to the serious crime suite in Antrim for questioning.
He only spoke in the dock to confirm that he understood the charges against him.
Burns, from Cliftonville Avenue in north Belfast, is accused of trying to kill the off-duty prison officer on June 28, 1977.
He is further charged with possessing a Harrington and Richardson revolver, along with a quantity of bullets, with intent to endanger life.
Detective Sergeant Hobson told the court he believed he could connect Burns to the charges.
The officer objected to bail on the grounds that after Burns was shot and wounded by the off-duty officer he then went on the run from Belfast.
He outlined how the prison officer was selling his house on Oldpark Avenue at the time of the incident but when two men pulled up on a hijacked motorbike, the officer’s wife became suspicious and shouted a warning to her husband.
The first gunman, said the officer, produced a silver gun but before he could shoot, the officer “produced his personal protection pistol and shot this man” who then fled the scene.
The second gunman, meanwhile, also tried to flee but was stopped by an off-duty soldier with DS Hobson telling the court that he was jailed for the offence.
A motorcycle helmet was recovered from the scene and was sent for forensic examination and the officer said results had recently come back that Burns’ DNA profile had been found on it.
He was arrested at a fold sheltered housing last Wednesday but during a series of 15 police interviews at Antrim Serious Crime Suite , “remained silent or said ‘no comment’”.
DS Hobson said he was objecting to bail amid fears that Burns would abscond again although he agreed that for a considerable time, he had been a serving prisoner in Portlaoise jail but no details of the offence were given in open court.
A defence solicitor revealed that Burns suffered from a plethora of serious medical conditions including serious lung disease and blood disorders, adding that he had a “good support network” between his family and medical professionals.
He further revealed that Burns had been “living openly” in Northern Ireland for the last 15 years and told District Judge Harry McKibben: “He believes he is on his last year or two and doesn’t intend to go anywhere. He absolutely wants to stay and fight his case.”
Judge McKibben said while he shared the “very valid” police concerns about the risk of flight, he added that given Burns’ state of poor health he would grant bail but on “onerous conditions”.
He released Burns on his own bail of £2,500 (pounds) with two sureties of the same amount, ordered him to report to police on a daily basis, live at an address known to police, surrender any passports he owns and not to contact any other “A.S.U.” [active service unit] individuals who were named during his police interviews.