The Government was informed that a prime suspect in the IRA’s Hyde Park bombing was wanted by police the year before it sent him a letter informing him he was not being actively sought, a Westminster committee heard yesterday.
Former Secretary of State Peter Hain told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee he could not recall being sent the correspondence from then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith in 2006 stating that John Downey was wanted for “arrest and questioning in respect of serious terrorist offences”.
The prosecution of Mr Downey, 62, from Co Donegal, over the 1982 bomb attack that killed four soldiers, was halted in February after a judge found he had been wrongly sent one of the so-called assurance letters in 2007, when in fact the Metropolitan Police were looking for him.
The judge decided his prosecution had therefore represented an abuse of process.
Mr Downey denied involvement in the attack.
The blame for the error in the Downey case has been laid at the door of the PSNI, which compiled a report on Mr Downey for the Government stating he was not wanted.
The letter from Lord Goldsmith, which listed Mr Downey as one of a number of individuals seeking letters, emerged in evidence during a lengthy committee session that also heard a brother of one of the soldiers killed at Hyde Park claim the families felt “cheated” of not having the opportunity to see justice done.
Christopher Daly, brother of Household Cavalry Lieutenant Anthony “Denis” Daly, said: “This whole episode has left the families feeling devastatingly let down.”
The committee is holding an inquiry into the Hyde Park episode and the wider administrative scheme that saw around 200 letters sent to republicans.
There were heated exchanges as committee member Ian Paisley Jnr challenged Mr Hain’s claim that he first heard of Mr Downey in 2013.
The DUP North Antrim MP read out the letter from Lord Goldsmith which was addressed to Mr Hain and a number of senior NIO officials.
“To be frank, whether it’s an oversight on my part, you are reading out a letter that I can’t recall, Ian,” Mr Hain responded.
“It obviously exists or you wouldn’t be reading it out.”
The Labour MP added: “I am not saying I’ve never seen it, I’m saying I can’t recall it.”
Mr Hain then branded as “absolutely outrageous” a later query by Mr Paisley over whether he had “inadvertently perjured” himself by not mentioning the letter in his evidence to the judge in the Downey case.
Details of the administrative scheme, which started running in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, became the focus of intense public scrutiny after the collapse of the Hyde Park case.
The committee is examining the process agreed between Sinn Fein and the last Labour government that saw the letters sent.