Government will not appeal John Downey ruling


Attorney General Dominic Grieve has confirmed the UK government will not appeal against a decision not to prosecute alleged IRA Hyde Park bomber John Downey.

A case against Mr Downey, accused of murdering four British soldiers in nail-bomb attack in Hyde Park in 1982, which he denies, collapsed after a judge ruled that a letter giving him a false assurance he was not wanted by British police over the IRA attack meant he could not be prosecuted.

Mr Grieve said he stood by his decision to charge the suspect but told the Commons the government accepted the ruling.

He was summoned to make a statement after an urgent question by Conservative Laurence Robertson was granted by the Speaker on 25 February 2014.

Mr Robertson, who chair's the Commons Northern Ireland Committee, warned that the situation "risked undermining the entire criminal justice system" in the UK, and suggested the government should reconsider appealing,

Mr Grieve rejected that the administration scheme under which the letter was issued amounted to an amnesty, but he conceded the letter to Mr Downey was sent in error.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said Parliament should be allowed to examine the scheme, calling it "scandalous" that MPs had had no information of it until now.

Mr Grieve said it operated independently of government and told MPs: "It arose out of a desire to provide reassurance to those who feared coming back into the jurisdiction that they could do so on the basis that there was no proposition of their being prosecuted on the evidence currently available to the authorities."

Peter Hain, Labour secretary of state for Northern Ireland at the time, said the scheme was a necessary part of the peace process to put Northern Ireland on a stable footing.

Pressed by several MPs over who wrote and signed the letters, the attorney general said they were the "collective acts of government".

Others, including the DUP's Ian Paisley, called for all letters to be rescinded. Mr Grieve said he could not give that assurance as it was a decision for government and not him alone.

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said the letter was a "terrible mistake" and called on Mr Grieve to return to the House once an investigation into the scandal is completed.

Conservative MP John Baron said the court decision made clear the recipients of the letters "are above the law" - an assertion which was contested by Mr Grieve.

After a question from Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert about how similar errors could be avoided in the future, Mr Grieve said checks were being conducted by the department.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has threatened to resign unless there is a judicial inquiry into the matter.

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