The revelation that Tony Blair’s Government secretly sent reassuring letters to IRA members on the run from the British justice system strikes at the heart of that very system.
It is a poignant irony that it was the British court that Gerry Kelly, who was a key witness in this case, tried to destroy – the Old Bailey – that exposed what has gone on.
But there is little comfort for victims in that exposure because the judgment, which reveals the letter-writing to those suspected of IRA atrocities, also shows why many victims now have little chance of getting justice . It would seem from Mr Justice Sweeney’s judgment that the 187 IRA members in receipt of the letters now face little or no prospect of ever being convicted, irrespective of the evidence against them.
It says something of the enormity of what Mr Blair designed that successive attorney generals appointed by him warned their political master of the implications for justice, with one pointing out that some of his proposals were unconstitutional.
As is his legacy with the Iraq war, Mr Blair has ridden roughshod over convention and in this case has gravely undermined the integrity of the criminal justice system for political expediency. It is difficult to reconcile Mr Blair’s supposedly passionate belief that terrorist murders in New York were sufficiently serious to justify British troops going to war with his secret attempts to provide comfort to the few IRA members still fearing trial.
Given the absence of Parliamentary sanction for a scheme which has such far-reaching implications for British justice, the Public Prosecutions Service needs to explain why it did not lodge an appeal against Mr Justice Sweeney’s decision.
Though Mr Blair’s administration plumbed new depths by giving in to pressure to appease republicans, successive British Governments have shown scant regard for justice. Victims, who have long been the object of fine words but sickening deeds, have again been betrayed.