Loyalist killer in OTR letters move

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A convicted loyalist double killer is set to use the IRA on the runs letters scheme as part of a renewed legal bid to be freed from jail, it emerged yesterday.

Robert Rodgers claims he suffered discrimination by being refused a Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) while nearly 200 republicans received government assurances they were not facing arrest or prosecution.

Following revelations that emerged at the collapsed trial of Donegal man John Downey for the Hyde Park bombing, lawyers for Rodgers wrote to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers seeking clarification on what forms of “special dispensation” were available for terrorist-related offences.

With a new judicial review challenge listed for hearing in May, a reply to their letter is to be provided by the end of this month.

In the High Court yesterday a judge was told 13 RPMs have reportedly been granted under a broader scheme involving so-called on the runs suspected of terrorist crime.

Mr Downey strenuously denied allegations against him over the 1982 bomb attack which killed four soldiers in London. The case against him was thrown out due to a letter wrongly telling him he was not wanted over any crimes – despite an arrest warrant having being issued by the Metropolitan Police.

A political storm erupted when it emerged that a deal was struck between the last Labour government and Sinn Fein which saw 187 such letters issued to republicans.

Rodgers’ legal team are now attempting to gain full information about any policy operated by the government.

His challenge to being denied an RPM was reinstated following an appeal against a previous High Court ruling.

The 60-year-old, formerly of Tierney Gardens, Belfast, was found guilty last year of murdering Eileen Doherty in September 1973.

Ms Doherty, a 19-year-old Catholic, was shot three times after her taxi was hijacked by gunmen in the city.

Despite being jailed for life, Rodgers could be free early next year under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Directing that a reply should be received by March 24, Mr Justice Stephens listed the case for a three-day hearing.