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OTR reaction: Government rules out appealing Downey verdict

Attorney General Dominic Grieve answers MPs' questions after the prosecution of Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey collapsed due to a police blunder.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve answers MPs' questions after the prosecution of Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey collapsed due to a police blunder.

The Government will not appeal the decision to stop the case against alleged Hyde Park bomber John Downey, Attorney General Dominic Grieve yesterday told MPs.

But Tory Laurence Robertson, MP for Tewkesbury, and chair of the Northern Ireland select committee, suggested the Government should reconsider appealing, after Mr Grieve said it would not be pursuing the matter further.

Mr Robertson warned that Tuesday’s events risked “undermining the entire criminal justice system of the United Kingdom”.

Referring to suggestions that the scheme under which the letter was issued amounted to an amnesty, Mr Grieve said: “Can I firstly make the point that it’s clear from the judgment and the supporting material that the administrative scheme was not and never could be an amnesty?”

But Mr Robertson questioned why it was not therefore possible to pursue a prosecution.

“If that is the case, why did the judge take the decisions that he took? And in that case, surely it is appropriate for the Government (to be) making an appeal?”

Mr Robertson, who was a Northern Ireland shadow minister, described the scheme as “a discourtesy to Parliament”, given that it had not been informed of the details of the scheme.

He said efforts to legislate a quasi-amnesty by Tony Blair’s Government were rejected by members, when a Northern Ireland offenders bill was withdrawn.

“There was no mention then of any other deal which was likely to be done,” he said.

He also questioned the role of the PSNI, which gave assurances to Mr Downey that he was not being pursued by any police force in the United Kingdom.

He added: “Will you confirm how many people have received letters under this scheme? Can you confirm if all those who have received letters are of a republican background?

“Do you consider that at a time when the PSNI is advertising for Bloody Sunday witnesses to come forward that this situation actually risks undermining the entire criminal justice system of the United Kingdom?”

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry asked for a figure on the number of letters the current coalition Government had sent under the scheme since they came to power in 2010.

Mr Grieve told the House: “My understanding is that since the present Government came to office, some 38 letters have been sent out.”

Alliance MP Naomi Long questioned why the Government had still been sending out letters since 2010 without the knowledge of Justice Minister David Ford.

She told MPs the deal for the letters could not be compared to the early release scheme in the Good Friday Agreement, which was voted on by people in Northern Ireland and accepted.

Ms Long noted the letters agreement had been “shabbily driven through behind the backs of even the representatives of this Parliament”.

She added: “Who administered this scheme? Who negotiated with devolved institutions behind the backs of the minister of justice for Northern Ireland so that this scheme could continue?”

Mr Grieve replied: “You say you consider it a shabby side deal, I’m sure that will be noted in this House by those who had cause to develop or operate it.

“I don’t think I can comment further on it than that.”

 

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