Published Thursday, 27 February 2014
First Minister Peter Robinson outside Hillsborough Castle on Wednesday night. (© Pacemaker)
Last Friday, the case against a Co Donegal man accused of carrying out the 1982 Hyde Park bombing in London collapsed, after being thrown out by a judge at the Old Bailey.
John Downey, 62, had been charged with the murders of four soldiers after his arrest at Gatwick Airport last year. He strenuously denies the charges that had been put to him.
He was detained because his name was on the UK's most wanted list - but in 2007, despite the outstanding warrant, he had been mistakenly told in a PSNI letter he was no longer a suspect.
Judge Mr Justice Sweeney branded the blunder by the PSNI a "catastrophic error". The force accepted "full responsibility" for the failures and that the matter will be referred to the Police Ombudsman.
At Hillsborough Castle on Wednesday night, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers held separate meetings with the DUP leader and Justice Minister David Ford.
It came after Mr Robinson threatened to collapse the powersharing administration over the issue.
Emerging after his talks, the first minister claimed that the crisis over the handling of the so-called 'on-the-runs' went beyond secret letters - to the issuing of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to convicted terrorists.
He described the meeting with Ms Villiers as "necessary".
"It wasn't always a comfortable meeting, it has to be said, because there were things that were necessary to put on the record."
He said that he had been in contact with the Speaker of the Assembly to request its recall on Friday in order to place a motion before the house.
Mr Robinson said he hoped his party would get widespread support for it and that he would be happy to talk to other parties about it.
He continued: "During the course of today, we were contacted by a number of people who were able to provide us with bits and pieces of information that we had not been aware of at this moment in time.
"It appears that we are not just dealing with on-the-runs who received letters, but we're also dealing with the people who received the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.
"Now that indicates that there were offences involved, so we are not just talking about people who it is believed that the police did not have enough evidence to make a prosecution stick."
Later Mr Ford told UTV Live Tonight during a live studio discussion that he also did not know about individuals receiving the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.
He added that it was not mentioned during his meeting with the Secretary of State.
He said: "It wasn't discussed - it was something which I merely heard the First Minister speak [of] when he left Hillsborough Castle.
"I've no way of knowing anything about the detail of it."
Describing the meeting with Ms Villiers, the Alliance Party leader said: "I think you could say it was a frank and robust exchange of views or whatever nice way you like to express it.
"I made it absolutely clear that her references to issues being matters for devolved authorities were distinctly unhelpful when this was purely a NI Office scheme set up by the Labour Party and continued to be administered by the Conservative Party of which the Department of Justice, and I as minister, had no knowledge."
He said he found it "deeply offensive" to be informed that it was a matter for Stormont, when he had no knowledge such a scheme existed.
He said Ms Villiers had apologised for her comments.
On Thursday, she will meet with the families of some Troubles victims to hear their accounts first-hand.
© UTV News