Families of nearly 295 murder victims are unlikely to ever see justice because those suspected of their murders have been sent ‘comfort letters’ assuring them they will never be prosecuted. A House of Commons committee was told that almost 100 terror suspects have been given the letters and as a result the crimes are likely to go unpunished.
The admission came from the Assistant Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Drew Harris. He told MPs that 95 suspects linked to 200 killings had been sent the letter. However, later the day the PSNI confirmed that Harris has been wrong, and it was nearer 300 murders.
Mr Harris’ testimony to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is part of an investigation into the issuing of letters by the Labour government to Republican terror suspects. It follows the case of John Downey whose trial for murder was halted when he produced a ‘comfort letter’.
Mr Downey was accused of involvement in the 1982 Hyde Park bomb attack that killed four soldiers and seven horses. The PSNI had been told to issue the letter but they had not realised that this would exempt him from prosecution for crimes being investigated by other forces. Consequently when the Metropolitan Police arrested and charged him they did not realise that he had effectively been given immunity.
A total of 228 letters were sent in total with 95 going to people suspected of murder. Mr Harris claimed that some of the letters were sent to ‘notorious’ terrorists.
He said: “When you look through the 228 names, there are people in that who are notorious, without a doubt.
“Ninety five of these individuals are linked in some way or other to 200 murder investigations.”
After Mr Harris finished giving his evidence his force issued a statement of clarification that those 200 incidents actually involved the murder of 295 people.”
Northern Ireland MP Ian Paisley Jnr reacted angrily to the news, he said: “I must say, it breaks my heart today, as a citizen of Northern Ireland, as a citizen of the United Kingdom, 95 people are holding letters excusing the murder of 200 people. That breaks my heart.”
The news comes after a series of very damaging revelations about the actions of the Labour government in Northern Ireland. Last month the committee was told that Downing Street attempted to interfere to get a terror suspect released after Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams spoke to them.
Former Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter claimed to have received a phone call in 2007 from Downing Street asking for the suspect to be released. He refused on the grounds that he feared any release would constitute conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. He also believed that a release ordered by Downing Street would be “illegal and unconstitutional”.
Then in a further remarkable twist, Gerry Adams himself was arrested in connection with the murder of Jean McConville. The mother of ten was kidnapped by the IRA who believed she was an informer.
All of these incidents have raised serious questions about the activities of Tony Blair’s Downing Street and will lead to suspicions that Adams wielded a lot of power behind the scenes.