ON THE RUN IRA SCHEME NOW OVER, SAYS SOS

Senior Sinn Fein member John Downey walked free over IRA Hyde Park bombings in London last week

Senior Sinn Fein member John Downey walked free over IRA Hyde Park bombings in London last week

THE  Government say that the On the Runs letters scheme for wanted IRA terrorists is now over.

In a speech, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers saidthat since December 2012 no more controversial letters have been issued by the Northern Ireland Office.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jnr said that as far as he was concerned the letters in the hands of wanted Provos were now “beaten dockets”.

A political row erupted last week after it was revealed that secret letters sent by the government to nearly 200 IRA terrorists.

The letters assured recipients they were not sought by police.

However, Ms Villiers said they were not “get out of jail free cards”.

She added: “They will not protect you from arrest or from prosecution and if the police can gather sufficient evidence, you will be subject to all the due processes of law, just like anybody else.

“The letters do not amount to any immunity, exemption or amnesty… something that could only ever be granted by legislation passed by Parliament.

“They were statements of fact at the time regarding an individual’s status in connection with the police and prosecuting authorities.”

The SOS sai 200 cases considered under the scheme, 38 had been looked at since May 2010.

She said, of those, 12 had received letters saying they were no longer wanted.

“No letters have been issued by the NIO since December 2012… and as far as this government is concerned, the scheme is over,” she said.

“If, at any time, we had been presented with a scheme that amounted to immunity, exemption or amnesty from prosecution … implied or otherwise … we would have stopped it immediately.”

The political storm over the issue erupted after the trial of Donegal man John Downey collapsed at the Old Bailey last week.

Mr Downey denied killing four soldiers in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing.

The case collapsed because he was mistakenly told in a letter in 2007 that he was no longer a wanted man, despite the fact that police in Northern Ireland knew he was still being sought by Scotland Yard.

Although police soon realised they had made a mistake, the assurance was never withdrawn.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable Matt Baggott has rejected claims that the letters amounted to an amnesty.

Two inquiries are to be held into the letters.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has announced it will hold an inquiry, and an independent judge-led inquiry has been announced by Prime Minister David Cameron.

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