‘Whitewash’ fears over MPs’ OTR report

Tony Blair during his appearance in front of the NI Affairs Committee investigating the OTR scheme
Tony Blair during his appearance in front of the NI Affairs Committee investigating the OTR scheme

Concerns have been expressed about a possible “whitewash” from the Westminster investigation into government on-the-run (OTR) letters for IRA suspects.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour government sent some 200 letters to republicans assuring them they were not wanted.

The investigation by MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was launched when the prosecution of John Downey for the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bomb was halted due to his OTR letter.

Lady Justice Hallett’s report in July concluded that the scheme was “flawed, but was not unlawful and did not give terrorist suspects an ‘amnesty’”.

Kenny Donaldson of the umbrella group Innocent Victims United (IVU) claimed that there must be “no sacred cows” when it comes to the final report by MPs, due by March 30.

“It is our belief, and this belief is shared by many, that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair subverted the criminal justice system, acting unlawfully to placate the republican movement and its personnel,” he said.

His group feels that Northern Ireland Office officials must also be held accountable when the final report is produced.

Mr Donaldson said that it was “absolutely essential that the NI Affairs Select Committee stands its ground and doesn’t buckle under the pressure it is likely to come under”.

If the report “tells it as it was”, then it will greatly undermine attempts to use the letters to stop anyone else being charged with crimes, he said.

“However, if a whitewash report is produced then IVU and many others would have serious concerns that the legal system has not fallen on the side of serving justice and is rather propping up the efforts of those suspected of serious crimes to evade justice.”

Committee member Naomi Long MP said she did not think the report would endorse the scheme and that it was “likely to be critical of the process”.

It is understood Mr Blair will be central to the report, and that it will be concluded next week and published by March 25-26.

The PSNI’s internal investigation is still continuing.

TUV leader Jim Allister emphasised how important the Westminster OTR report would be.

“It is important that after the fact that we only got a private inquiry into the OTR letters by Lady Hallett, that this report should live up to expectations.”

He added: “It must be unrelenting in its exposure of the chicanery that was afoot in government attempts to pervert the course of justice.”