Police chief says 95 'on-the-runs' linked to murders

Wednesday 07 May 2014 23.21
Matt Baggott and Drew Harris give evidence inside the House of Commons in central London
Matt Baggott and Drew Harris give evidence inside the House of Commons in central London

A senior PSNI officer has told MPs in the House of Commons that 95 recipients of so-called ‘letters of comfort’ issued by the British government have links to 200 terrorist murders. 

Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris told a Westminster committee today some of the links were only by intelligence.

Mr Harris also said five individuals who received letters were under active police investigation on the back of new evidence unearthed by the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team.

Mr Harris was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

It is holding an inquiry into the contentious on-the-run (OTR) administrative process agreed between Sinn Féin and the last Labour government. 

The process saw letters sent to about 190 republicans informing them they were not being sought by the authorities in the UK.

Mr Harris said he was not sure if the new evidence related to the five recipients would effectively annul the letters.

"That is not clear as we are speaking today," he said.

He said files would be passed to prosecutors in Northern Ireland to assess whether charges could be pursued.

"I don't know whether they (the letters) will be annulled or not," he said.

Mr Harris was appearing alongside PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

Details of the scheme, which started running in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, emerged after the collapse of a case against a man accused of the IRA's Hyde Park bomb in 1982, an attack that killed four soldiers.

The prosecution of John Downey, 62, from Co Donegal, over the Hyde Park attack was halted in February.

It came after a judge found he had been wrongly sent one of the letters, when in fact the Metropolitan Police were looking for him.

Mr Downey denied involvement in the attack.

Police in Northern Ireland have been heavily criticised for their handling of the case.