Tebbit: McGuinness prosecution was dropped to keep peace talks going

Former Tory cabinet member Lord Tebbit says that a source in the Northern Ireland prosecution service called him during peace talks between the government and IRA to vent frustration at plans to let Martin McGuinness off the hook for murder.

Thursday, 6th April 2017, 7:35 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:03 pm
Lord Tebbit said a source in the Northern Ireland prosecution service called him in frustration at the failure to prosecute Martin McGuinness

The Tory peer has told the News Letter the source advised him republicans struck a deal with the Blair government – that the talks in the 1990s which led to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) could only proceed if a prosecution file against Mr McGuinness was dropped.

The Sinn Fein leader, who died recently, was regarded as a very senior IRA figure and a key figure in the peace process.

Lord Tebbit said he would “normally trust” his source who was “within the prosecution service in Northern Ireland”.

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They told him that “the talks which led to the GFA between Blair government and the IRA ... that one of the conditions was that the dossier alleging a number of crimes committed by McGuinness would not be proceeded with ... and of conditions there were ... the understanding was given for the IRA that they would not be prosecuted”.

The source approached him “because of their belief of my interest in these matters” and because they felt “some frustration” at the non-prosecution, he said.

His claims were supported by journalist Kathryn Johnston, who co-authored a biography of Mr McGuinness with her late husband and former Sunday Times journalist, Liam Clarke.

Their book detailed a police investigation into Mr McGuinness in the 1990s, code-named Operation Taurus, which was prompted by an investigation into him by The Cook Report.

Ms Johnston said: “Norman Tebbit’s claims certainly tally with the account of Operation Taurus given in our book Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government.”

The book detailed a memo classed as “secret” placed in the prosecution file by a senior police officer “for direction”, which advised: “A factor in this matter is that the UK government may soon be meeting senior members of Sinn Fein, including Mr McGuinness, to plan the future of Northern Ireland.”

The book prompted a complaint by then MEP Jim Allister to the police ombudsman in 2007, who replied that the memo had been “appropriate and consistent with statute and convention”.

A Public Prosecution Service spokeswoman (PPS) said it has “not been able to identify any contact at that time with Lord Tebbit on this case” and that “political considerations played no part in this decision”.

“As we have previously stated, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions received a file in 1994. A direction to police was issued in March 1995. It was considered that the available evidence was insufficient to afford a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction for any criminal offence. Police were advised that should further evidence become available, the file could be resubmitted for consideration.”

A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “Martin McGuinness worked tirelessly to develop and promote the peace process. His dedication to peace and reconciliation has been recognised throughout Ireland and across the world.”