Three on the run republicans were ‘cleared’ in March, says SF

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

Three wanted republican fugitives were told by the Government that they were cleared at the start of March, Sinn Fein has said.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said no so-called letters of assurance, which informed people that they are not sought by detectives probing Troubles-related crimes, have been sent since 2012.

She has added that the Government administrative scheme which provided the messages to OTRs (on the runs) is over and five outstanding applications will not be processed.

A Sinn Fein statement said: “Three individuals, who Sinn Fein had previously been told by the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) remained ‘wanted’ by the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland), were confirmed as ‘cleared’ by the NIO on March 3rd 2014.”

The process for dealing with those fleeing justice sparked controversy; opponents branded it a grubby deal to win Sinn Fein backing, while supporters insisted it did not constitute an amnesty for murder but was a necessary compromise to support the peace process.

Ann Travers’ sister Mary Travers, 22, was shot dead by an IRA gang as she left Mass in Belfast with her father, the magistrate Tom Travers, in 1984.

She said: “The OTR letters seem to be like the final nail in the coffin of victims.

“Nobody is getting any justice or any prosecutions for their loved ones’ murders and those responsible for putting us in the situation that we are in today seem to be continually rewarded.”

An agreement between Sinn Fein and the last Labour government saw around 200 letters sent to republican OTRs, informing them that UK police were not actively seeking them – but not ruling out future prosecutions if new evidence became available.

The scheme was established following the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, administered by the NIO with the involvement of Downing Street and senior law figures.

It dealt with cases of republicans suspected of IRA terrorism who were never charged or convicted of related offences.

The special arrangements were disclosed following the collapse of the Hyde Park bomb trial, which was stopped when it emerged the man accused of murdering four soldiers in the 1982 IRA bombing had received one of the letters.

John Downey, from Co Donegal, denied the charges.

Sinn Fein has faced criticism after it said it will not send Gerry Kelly, a senior party member who was involved in the administrative scheme, to give evidence to a committee of MPs probing the letters scheme.

The party submitted written evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee which said:

l During the period from January 2000 to December 2012 a total of 214 individuals requested Sinn Fein’s assistance in seeking clarity around their legal status if they returned to Northern Ireland.

l Most cases were processed through the ‘administrative route’.

l Between April 2007 and July 2013 a total of 35 cases were addressed through the ‘legal route’.

l Three individuals were arrested and charged while awaiting clarity. Two were subsequently acquitted of all charges; the other was sentenced to 20 years in 2011 and released in 2013.

The party said the issue or use of amnesty played no part.