‘Victims disappointed and bemused’ - Kathryn Stone

Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone
Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone

Terrorism victims in Northern Ireland have been left disappointed and bemused by revelations surrounding the John Downey case, Victims’ Commissioner Kathryn Stone said.

She called for greater openness, honesty and transparency over the Government’s letters of assurance to on the run potential suspects - which were disclosed during the Hyde Park prosecution collapse.

Ms Stone asked Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers to meet relatives or survivors of those bereaved by 30 years of conflict and provide greater clarification of the affair’s implications.

“I am concerned that these are very serious matters. People have been very bitterly disappointed and bemused by the event,” she said.

“Judge Sweeney makes clear that these letters were never meant to be amnesty. There is a perception that that is the case and we need to make sure.

“Perhaps one of the things that could be usefully done is for the Secretary of State to issue a clarification and the sooner that that clarification is made then the better it will be.”

Ms Villiers has said the on-the-run letters never constituted an amnesty from prosecution for alleged crimes.

However Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson is among those who branded them “get out of jail free cards”.

Thousands of survivors of IRA, loyalist paramilitary and security force violence still live in Northern Ireland, the Republic and Great Britain.

Many have campaigned for justice for the killing of their loved ones, sometimes many decades ago, and want to ensure police forces are not hindered in pursuing perpetrators.

Sinn Fein provided lists of names to the Government as part of continuing peace process negotiations, the Downey judgment revealed.

At least 187 people received so-called letters of assurance which said they were not currently wanted by police but did not rule out future prosecution if circumstances changed.

Ms Stone has been appointed by the Stormont administration to independently represent the views of victims. Their treatment was at the centre of political talks before Christmas which failed to produce agreement.

The Commissioner said the Government should spell out details in the Hyde Park judgment which appeared to rule out an amnesty from prosecution, given that most people don’t have the time to read such a lengthy document.

“People have taken this to mean not only will they not have access to justice but there will be no opportunity to access justice and that is very difficult for people to swallow,” she added.

“We need to be very, very clear about that. There are a lot of myths, let’s make sure that we have real clarity.”

She invited the Northern Ireland Secretary to meet the Victims and Survivors’ Forum in Belfast.