A former Northern Irish Police Officer has claimed that Tony Blair’s Downing Street conspired to pervert the course of justice by requesting the release of two Irish Republican terror suspects, hours after they had been arrested for the attempted murder of a soldier.
Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter told a committee of MPs that the 2007 phone call came after a request from the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.The ex-officer refused the request, and pointed out that one of the men was later convicted of attempted murder. He also branded the intervention as an “illegal and unconstitutional” attempt to pervert the course of justice.
Baxter said: “They were arrested, I have a note here, on the 8th of March some time around tea time and taken to the serious crime suite at Antrim. “At 9.10pm I received a phone call from the duty ACC (Assistant Chief Constable) at (PSNI) headquarters.
“Gerry Adams had telephoned Downing Street demanding their release, Downing Street rang the Chief Constable’s office looking their release and I got a phone call suggesting I should release them.
“That of course in my mind is attempting to pervert the course of justice and that was conveyed back to headquarters.”
He added: “I don’t know who the personality in Downing Street was but as a police officer that is totally illegal and unconstitutional.
“We continued interviewing them and Mr McGeough was subsequently convicted for attempted murder.”
He was the first person to give evidence as part of an investigation into “on-the-runs”, suspects who were wanted for terrorists offenses but had gone into hiding abroad.
Baxter claimed the Northern Ireland Office encouraged the police to create circumstances under which some of the suspects could return to the UK without fear of prosecution. He said some of the suspect were “high profile members of Sinn Fein”, the political wing of the Irish Republican terrorists.
The committee invited Baxter to the investigation into the circumstances under which 190 Republican on-the-runs were supplied with official letters confirming they were no longer wanted by the authorities.
Although details of the scheme have been known for sometime it has recently come back into public focus after the prosecution of John Downey was halted in February after he produced one of the letters.
Downey successfully argued in court that it was unfair to prosecute him for the Hyde Park Bomb attack in 1982 because he held a ‘letter of comfort’. The atrocity was caused when the IRA planted two bombs at Hyde Park Barracks, the explosions killed 11 military personnel: four soldiers of the Blues & Royals and seven bandsmen of the Royal Green Jackets.
Baxter insisted that when he informed the Northern Ireland Office that Downey was no longer wanted he was only referring to his force. He also said that it was illegal to tell a suspect that they are wanted by another force: “I want to make quite clear – that was not a mistake, that was not a catastrophic mistake, but it was a legal requirement.
“I have no jurisdiction, or had no jurisdiction, to pass information about a person wanted in another jurisdiction to that individual, indeed to do so would be prejudicing the investigation, it would be perverting the course of justice.
“At the end of the day the victims and people in Northern Ireland need to know that there is a robust prosecution process and that they can have confidence in justice and this has totally undermined it.
“The victims of Northern Ireland will never get justice. Once the Sentencing Act (linked to the Good Friday peace agreement) was passed which allowed prisoners to be released and all these other schemes, justice in relation to republican and loyalist terrorists has been totally corrupted.
“The victims, the casualties, the collateral damage of a policy decided in 1998, it is almost as if the victims are crying out for justice and there is no one to listen to them and this process is just more evidence of it.”
The issue of punishment of terrorist offenders has been controversial ever since Tony Blair created the Sentence Review Commission. Under the scheme up to 500 convicted terrorists were set free, including Patrick Magee, who blew up Conservative Party Conference in 1984 nearly killing Margaret Thatcher.