On-the-run scheme 'over' - Villiers

Published Friday, 07 March 2014
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Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has said the controversial 'on-the-runs' scheme is over, as far as the Government is concerned.

On-the-run scheme 'over' - Villiers
Ms Villiers has said the letters were not “get out of jail free cards”. (© Pacemaker)

Ms Villiers made the announcement during a speech to the Association of European Journalists in Belfast on Friday.

The move comes after the collapse of the trial of John Downey who denied charges of involvement in the 1982 London Hyde Park bombing.

Mr Downey was mistakenly informed by the PSNI in 2007 that there was no interest in him from them, or any other police force across the UK.

When the letter was revealed in court, the trial judge threw the case out ruling an abuse of process had occurred.

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kinahan has said he believes a second so-called "letter of comfort" has been sent to another individual also by mistake.

On Thursday, during a Policing Board meeting, the PSNI confirmed it checked 238 names for the scheme, with 192 found to be "not wanted".

Ms Villiers has now confirmed the scheme, which sparked a political crisis when First Minister Peter Robinson threatened to resign, is over.

She said anyone holding a letter should be aware that they are not "get out of jail free cards" or protect individuals from arrest or prosecution.

It needs to be clearly understood by all recipients that no letters which have been issued can be relied on to avoid questioning or prosecution for offences where information or evidence becomes available now or later.

Theresa Villiers

"They were statements of fact at the time regarding an individual's status in connection with the police and prosecuting authorities," she said.

"No letters have been issued by the NIO since December 2012 and as far as this government is concerned, the scheme is over.

"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."

Three inquiries are to be conducted into the OTR scheme.

Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered a judge-led inquiry. The Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee will conduct its own probe and the Police Ombudsman is also investigating.

Meanwhile Ms Villiers said it is important for the Executive to agree an approach on the issues of the past, parades and flags which commands "public confidence".

She said the Executive needs to "move forward" and work on issues such as welfare reform and on tackling organised crime.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
19 Comments
culchy in the stix wrote (140 days ago):
There will be no more on-the-run excuse me letters sent as all the on-the-run excuses me's have already been delivered. My God, there must be a factory in Britain that specialises in whitewash.
Bigbaws in Ulsta wrote (140 days ago):
@ concerned in portadown. Yes of course there was secret deals done behind closed doors, because the british gov want rid of NI for once and for all. And who are-you going to stand beside once Scotland leave the Union?
Fred in Ballycastle wrote (141 days ago):
@ Disgusted in Moira, I think you fundamentally misunderstand what had happened. You say '...yet let out CONVICTED Terrorists', these individuals have never been convicted of terrorism, and the letters from the government, bar the mistaken letter of the Downey case, were statements to which these people were not wanted for any crime, rather than they were wanted and were 'let off' as you seem to think. If you are going to go on a rant and use capitalised letters and all probably best to educate yourself a little on what's actually going on, people like me are a little fed up of the knee-jerk ill-informed commentary from people like you. I didn't see you on here when the judiciary actually did let criminals off for sectarian marching outside a church? You must've been too busy being disgusted in Moira that day eh?
Sam in England wrote (142 days ago):
Those letters are a pardon. The European courts will back them up.
grace in belfast wrote (143 days ago):
but what's the difference between letting people out of jail as part of the good friday agreement and letting suspected criminals go free? If they were in jail at the time they would be free now anyway
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BRIAN ROWAN
The pictures from Stormont this week showed us how politics here still walks in and out of step.
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