Relatives of soldiers killed by the Hyde Park bomb are said to be in shock after getting a letter from Jeremy Corbyn, which they have interpreted as an expression of support for their cause.
The Labour leader’s letter, dated July 5 and released publicly on Tuesday, condemns the IRA bombing campaign of the 1980s, and says that the state must act to “console and support” bereaved relatives of soldiers.
Families of the military men killed as a result of the 1982 Hyde Park bloodbath have been attempting to pursue a private action against former suspect John Downey, whose criminal trial over the bombing collapsed in 2014 – but they have been denied legal aid to help get their case to court.
The letter from Mr Corbyn does not specifically state that the families should be granted legal aid for the private action; nor does it offer a blanket condemnation of all paramiltary activities.
However, a statement from McCue and Partners – the law firm pursuing the private action on behalf of victims’ families – has said that it amounts to “support for their campaign for justice”.
The Labour leader’s letter (on paper headed ‘Leader of the Opposition’ and bearing Mr Corbyn’s signature) follows correspondence sent to him during springtime, attempting to solicit his support.
Mr Corbyn’s letter states: “Dear Mr Tipper [Mark Tipper – brother of dead soldier Simon Tipper], thank you for your letter drawing attention to the failure of our legal aid authorities to fund a civil action for damages that your organisation supports against an alleged perpetrator of a 1982 atrocity.
“You will appreciate that I do not know the details of that particular case, or the reasons why legal aid has not been extended. However, if this is a result of the recent, very serious cuts to legal aid made by the Conservative government, you may be assured that my party, if elected, will end those cuts...
“However many decades pass since an atrocity, the families of the victims will still yearn for justice and it is the duty of government to ensure that they have such closure as the law permits.
“The political process of reconciliation to bring an end to the violence and the Good Friday Agreement was necessary but I appreciate may bring you little comfort given the loss you have suffered.”
It goes on to restate that Labour supports the legal aid system, adding: “The state has a duty to do what it can, however many years have passed, to console and support the families of those who die in its service.”
The law firm McCue and Partners said the letter had left relatives in “shock,” coming after “years of support for the IRA and none for British Armed Forces” from Mr Corbyn, adding it is hoped he “will now raise a direct challenge to the government”.
It included a statement from Mark Tipper – whose brother was one of four members of the Blues and Royals regiment to die – which said: “We only welcome Mr Corbyn’s words if they are true, and proven by his actions.
“He has much trust to regain – but his support in our campaign is a starting point.”
This Saturday will see a wreath-laying and march take place in London to mark the anniversary of the bombing, plus what the law firm said is the “treatment of veterans and victims of terrorism generally”.
FROM CARNAGE TO COURT
On July 20, 1982, the IRA carried out two major attacks in London.
The first was at Hyde Park, when a car bomb packed with nails killed four soldiers, seven horses, and wounded many others, including civilian passers-by.
A few hours later a bomb at a bandstand in Regent’s Park, targeting military musicians performing for a crowd, killed seven bandsmen and wounded others.
In 2014, a multiple murder trial against John Downey over the first bomb collapsed when it was revealed that, before being arrested at Gatwick in 2013, Mr Downey (who denied all charges) had wrongly received a government assurance that he was not being sought by UK police forces.
It was revealed last week that he had been given over £50,000 in legal aid to conduct his defence.
Whilst Hyde Park victims’ families have been refused legal aid for their own action, a campaign to raise £85,000 has so far netted £62,000.
McCue and Partners are acting for the families of all the victims of the Hyde Park bomb.
Although their action is often described as a “private prosecution”, in technical terms that is not strictly correct.
It is a civil case which aims to establish responsibility, which means a judge cannot find someone guilty and impose a custodial sentence.
However, they could make a finding of liability for the blast, opening up the door for damages to be sought from the person or persons responsible.
SarahJane Young, one of the members of the Hyde Park Justice Campaign, is understood to want any damages to be paid to a veterans’ charity.