John Downey, the man formerly suspected of the Hyde Park bombing – and whose case sparked the on-the-run letters scandal – is being held over a double murder.
Efforts are being made to extradite the 66-year-old from the Republic of Ireland to face charges in Northern Ireland relating to the killing of two UDR men in the 1970s.
The news broke last night, the very same day The News Letter obtained confirmation that Sinn Fein negotiator Sean ‘Spike’ Murray is not to face any charges in relation to an alleged post-ceasefire plot to import guns from Florida.
The revelation about Mr Murray comes just as Mr Murray is set to take part in a panel discussion with a senior PSNI officer.
Mr Downey walked free from court over four years ago as he prepared to face a trial in relation to the killing of four soldiers in a bombing in 1982 in central London’s Hyde Park – something he denied any involvement in.
The Donegal-based man had been arrested at Gatwick Airport whilst travelling on a holiday, but the case against him collapsed when it was revealed that he had received a written assurance from former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government that he was not actively wanted.
The killings which he is now being held in relation to are that of Lance Corporal Alfred Johnston and Private James Eames.
After Mr Downey’s Hyde Park case collapsed, it was revealed that a raft of republican former on-the-runs had received similar “comfort letters” assuring them they are not wanted.
Last night the PSNI said: “Detectives from An Garda Siochana have today arrested a 66-year-old man in Donegal on suspicion of the murder of two UDR soldiers in 1972 and on suspicion of aiding and abetting an explosion.
“The arrest was made under a European Arrest Warrant as part of a joint operation with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
“He is expected to appear at Dublin High Court tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday).”
The statement continued in the name of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell, from the PSNI’s Major Investigation Team, who said “today’s arrest demonstrates the benefits of joint working between police forces and other national partner agencies”.
The PPS said in a statement: “Following careful consideration of all available evidence, a decision has been taken to prosecute one person for the offence of murder and for aiding and abetting the causing of an explosion.
“Extradition proceedings were initiated in the High Court in Dublin today (Monday November 5, 2018) to seek the extradition of one man from the Republic of Ireland for trial in Northern Ireland.
“One man was subsequently arrested in County Donegal this evening and is due to appear in court in Dublin tomorrow [Tuesday].”
The PSNI said Lance Corporal Johnston was a father of four, and Private James Eames was a father of three.
It said both men died when a device exploded in a car they were checking on the Irvinestown Road, Cherrymount, Enniskillen in 1972, adding: “The PSNI investigation into these murders remains active.”
The Conflict Archive on the Internet (run by the Province’s two universities), lists their deaths as being on August 26 that year, though other sources give dates which are different by a couple of days.
Of the fatalities, it states: “Killed by remote controlled bomb, hidden in abandoned car, detonated when Ulster Defence Regiment patrol approached, Cherrymount.”
It describes James Eames as being 33, and Alfred Johnston as 32.
The book Lost Lives, a compendium of Troubles deaths, concurs. It said the former was a post office engineer and the latter a butcher.
It adds that their funerals were attended by Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw. Both men are listed as Protestant.
It says they had been returning to Enniskillen as part of a four-man patrol after carrying out security duties at an electricity substation.
It further states that 13 men of the 97th Battery Field Regiment were also caught in the explosion as they passed, and that their four-ton truck was blown about 30 yards along the road, causing injuries.
It is understood the families of the two UDR men are being kept informed of developments.