Hard-hitting investigations. Jennifer O'Leary reports on a case at the heart of the storm over on-the-runs and uncovers evidence kept out of the public.
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# Here I am again
# Back on the corner again
# Back where I belong
# Where I've always been. #
Cynthia Johnston was seven years old
when her father was killed by an IRA booby-trap in 1972.
She left Enniskillen when she was 22.
Now, she's come home,
the trip prompted by the dramatic collapse
of a trial of a man she's never met,
a man Cynthia believes may have answers about her father's death.
The Hyde Park bomb suspect John Downey
walked free from court last month
after he produced a Government letter
saying he wasn't wanted for the attack.
The case also brought to light
details of a secret deal for so-called on-the-runs.
When the story broke,
it lifted the lid Cynthia Johnston had closed
on the events of 1972
and opened up a whole new set of questions for her
because the judge revealed for the first time
that John Downey was also a suspect
in the bomb attack that killed her father.
Spotlight has uncovered inconsistencies
in police handling of John Downey
in relation to his suspected involvement in that attack.
The Hyde Park prosecution collapsed
because of what the judge said was a catastrophic failure.
Cynthia Johnston is now asking if the police
have also made a mistake about her father's case.
I want those answers.
My father deserves answers.
Anybody who has died of a violent death
has the right to have their case investigated.
Coming up here, this was my primary school.
'I left Enniskillen in 1987.
'Part of it was an escape, I think.
'Then it was just the individual loss of a person.
'That is something that you can't really get over.'
Well, this is the spot where the explosion happened.
This is the spot where my dad was killed
along with his colleague, James Eames.
This is it, this is the place.
'Someone unknown to Cynthia
'has placed two crosses at the site of the attack.'
It's such a respectful thing, you know?
They were nice men, well-liked.
I'm not surprised that somebody has done this.
I know you'd spoken to me on the drive down here
and you had said that you're not bitter.
But I still want justice and I still want answers.
Cynthia's father, Alfred Johnston, lived in Enniskillen,
where he served as a part-time member
of the Ulster Defence Regiment.
The 32-year-old was the senior member
of a group of four close friends,
all soldiers with the regiment.
Private James Eames, a Post Office engineer in the town,
the youngest member of the group, 22-year-old Ronald Glass...
..and the fourth man, Robert Cranston.
Well, we met through the Territorial Army
and it was always good fun with each other.
And I just suppose that would have carried on
when we did go into the UDR.
We would have had a better banter together, as well.
And it was more like a family, really,
and they did look after each other.
Cherrymount and the Irvinestown Road outside Enniskillen...
the 25th of August, 1972.
A UDR team on patrol.
The four-man unit -
Glass, Cranston, Johnston and Eames.
A couple of minutes to midnight
and the men are nearing the end of their shift.
We had been briefed before going out that a car had been stolen
and that's when we noticed the strange car
pulled in very closely to the side of the road.
The patrol need to inform their superiors
about the suspicious vehicle.
There were no radios available for us
as the radios were giving problems, at that time.
That is the reason why Alfie and Jimmy
were going to the phone box -
because we had no way of contacting base
without the radios.
We went down, back down the road, and cut into the hedge to observe
if anyone came to lift it or, you know, any movement around it.
But there were others hiding in ditches that night,
In the field above the car,
an IRA bomber was waiting for a lorry carrying off-duty squaddies
to return from recreational leave in town.
An army lorry came from the Enniskillen direction
and just watched it come out to opposite the car
and the blast went up.
There was a flash, a bang and just...
it was sort of mayhem, then,
with soldiers jumping out of the lorry and...
There were soldiers crying and...
..some injured and...
Just basically from that...
It's hard to know what everything really came in, then,
all the forces came in and we got...
There was a search started for Alfie and Jimmy.
We had been calling for them but no answer.
Another fellow that we knew that was in the UDR, he came along
and showed us a bit of a coloured belt
which we knew that everyone was wearing.
We knew then that...
..things were a lot worse than what we had thought they were.
Quite easily, all four of us could've been killed.
And the amazing thing is, like,
it was a bomb that wasn't even meant for us.
So, Robert, this is footage of that scene.
-So have a look at this.
That's from the next day.
Like so many others who've suffered,
Robert had assumed the trail had gone cold
and the investigation consigned to history.
I thought it had just been forgotten about,
like so many others.
I felt that it was just a statistic in a book.
So who killed Lance Corporal Johnston
and Private James Eames?
The Downey judgment revealed that there was evidence
linking John Downey to the Cherrymount bomb.
Tonight, Spotlight can reveal the nature of that evidence.
A single fingerprint
found on the tape wrapped around the bomb's batteries,
recovered from the scene.
The information comes from a Historical Enquiries Team report
into the Cherrymount bomb.
It shows the RUC had evidence to connect two men to the attack.
One suspect, a man with bomb-making experience,
has since died.
The fingerprint which was found belonged to the second suspect
but he could not be identified at the time.
Fingerprint evidence from scores of people known to Gardai
had been passed on to the RUC at various times in the 1970s.
On at least one occasion, John Downey's prints were shared.
Two Garda officers were shot dead in Roscommon in July, 1980.
And a set of fingerprints taken that day,
of a man living in Cavan,
were given to the RUC and to the Metropolitan Police.
They were identical to fingerprints found
on the bomb that killed Johnston and Eames.
Suspect two could now be identified
as John Downey.
Despite this, no attempt was made by the RUC
to extradite John Downey from the Republic.
And the fact that he was wanted for questioning
about the Eames-Johnston murder
was not circulated to police in Britain.
I found it very, very upsetting
that there seemed to be no move forward at that time.
If that information was used wisely,
we know that a person could possibly have been stopped
and the people that he worked with could possibly have been stopped.
Garda authorities considered Downey
to be one of the most senior IRA figures in the Republic.
And they believed on at least two occasions
he met with IRA operatives in Dublin
known to be travelling to and from England.
'An amateur cameraman took these pictures
'minutes after the explosion at Harrods.'
In the early 1980s, England was a key target for the IRA.
A series of high-profile locations were bombed.
'..officers killed and injured
'were caught in the blast as they examined the car...'
Still wanted in Northern Ireland,
John Downey was free to travel to London in 1982.
The attack in Hyde Park proved to be
one of the most notorious IRA atrocities.
Four soldiers from the Household Cavalry
were killed by the blast
and several were injured.
Seven of their horses also died.
'In all, 23 people were taken to hospital,
'17 of them civilians who had simply been passing by.'
Police investigating the bombing got an early breakthrough.
The car that carried the bomb
had been in two London car parks,
leaving the second just four hours before the explosion.
And the tickets handed in to those car parks
both had John Downey's fingerprints on them.
These fingerprints matched the set of John Downey's fingerprints
taken by Garda officers.
He was also identified from an artist's impression
of a suspect seen by eyewitnesses.
Ten months after the bombing,
the Met announced that they wanted John Downey
for conspiracy to murder.
'Scotland Yard say they still think he's hiding in Britain.'
'Beneath the debris, dozens of people lay buried.
'One question - Was the Prime Minister safe?'
In 1984, the IRA bombed the Tory Party Conference,
killing five people in an attempt to wipe out the British Cabinet.
According to the HET report into the death of Cynthia's father,
John Downey's name was circulated by police
as wanted throughout the UK
in connection with the Brighton bomb.
But Sussex Police now tell us
that John Downey is not currently wanted for the Brighton bombing.
The HET report found
suspect two for the murder of your father
was also wanted for questioning in relation to Hyde Park.
What was your reaction when you read those details in the report?
It's shocking, to be perfectly honest with you. And...
That is one thing I've really struggled with.
I just really struggled with that. I just...
You know, I am somebody who asks questions of things all the time
and I just pointed that out
to a member of the HET team at the time.
I said, "Do you not think that if more was done
"this person could have been stopped in his tracks?"
The RUC only considered extraditing Downey
for the UDR killings in Enniskillen
after he became a high-profile suspect in Britain.
The Director Of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland refused,
saying the fingerprint evidence was wholly insufficient.
Four years later, the Met tried and failed
to get the Attorney General to apply for Downey's extradition.
In the unsettled political climate
following the release of the Guildford Four,
it was considered unlikely
that such an application would be successful.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
But there was enough evidence to justify questioning John Downey,
so why was he sent a letter
saying he wasn't wanted by the police in 2007?
For other victims of The Troubles,
the fear is that those suspected of murdering their relatives
have also wrongly been told they're not wanted.
Last weekend, a group of 50 travelled from Northern Ireland to England,
where they met the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings.
Julie Hambleton, whose sister was killed in the 1974 atrocity,
organised the informal get-together
to strengthen ties between Northern Irish and English victims.
I know I'm preaching to the converted, here.
Many of you know the grief and the suffering and the loss
that we know, as a family.
The OTR letters are meant to be statements of fact -
an individual is not wanted by police.
But that's not how it feels to many relatives.
'My sister went out that night and she was killed.
'Nearly 40 years on, it's 40 years this year,'
we then find out that terrorists,
have been given letters for Get Out Of Jail Free cards.
What on earth is happening to our justice system?
whose father was killed in the 1987 Enniskillen bomb,
travelled to Birmingham.
He was also one of a group of victims
who expressed their anger about the OTRs
directly to politicians, at Stormont.
'To say I was upset was an understatement.'
I felt sick, re-traumatised.
The whole thing brought back painful memories
of the day my father was murdered.
I know from the press that there was two people
that were connected to the Enniskillen poppy day bombing.
That received OTR letters. There is more than me that are feeling
very, very upset and hurt at the minute.
It just devastated me.
What killed me the most, was that
those people who we were supposed to trust,
those people who we put our faith into,
those people who are supposed to protect the most vulnerable...
had just dismissed our grief and our loved ones' justice.
What distinguishes the Downey letter from others
is that the Downey letter was issued in error, he WAS wanted by the Met.
But leaving that error aside,
how could John Downey NOT be wanted for questioning
about the Cherrymount UDR bombing?
CHEERING AND SHOUTING
As part of the Good Friday Agreement,
hundreds of paramilitary prisoners
walked free between 1998 and 2000,
but in the years of negotiations that followed
Sinn Fein pushed for a deal
for people who were still wanted by police,
the so-called on-the-runs.
John Downey's name was among hundreds passed to the British Government by Sinn Fein.
The party first asked for his case to be considered in 2002.
In 2004, word came back that John Downey was a wanted man.
The original fingerprint had been lost, but a photograph of it
still existed and the PSNI believed they had enough evidence to
arrest and question Downey about the killing of Johnston and Eames.
Alex Elliott was a PSNI officer who took a personal interest in the case.
He saw the police file.
I knew that there was a suspect,
a named suspect in the case.
You knew that there was evidence in the form of fingerprint evidence?
Yes, I did.
Despite this, Sinn Fein continued to ask about John Downey's status.
On three separate occasions in 2006, the authorities confirmed
Downey was a wanted man and again, in January 2007.
Then this happened...
If you had told me some time ago that I would be standing here
to take this office,
I would have been totally unbelieving.
May 8th, 2007 was devolution day at Stormont, the day when Sinn Fein and
the DUP took up the reins of power together.
Two days later,
the PSNI decided John Downey was no longer a wanted man.
He was sent a letter indicating he was in the clear.
It seems, right up until 2006, and 2007, he was wanted by the PSNI,
the PSNI would have arrested him and investigated him
if he had come back to Northern Ireland.
But that position changed.
He was issued with the letter to say he was no longer actively being pursued.
There is no explanation for the change in the PSNI's
interest in pursuing Downey for prosecution.
For more than 25 years, police thought the evidence from the Cherrymount bombing
was good enough to arrest and question John Downey.
And then, suddenly, they didn't.
We've asked the PSNI what changed their mind about arresting
John Downey for the UDR killings.
They didn't answer our question, but said
they intend to re-examine cases involving 228 named individuals.
A year after John Downey got his letter,
the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team looked at the file reviewed by Alex Elliott.
Based on the evidence, they wanted to issue a new alert,
naming Downey as wanted for the Cherrymount murders,
a fact confirmed to Alex Elliott by a source.
I was contacted in late 2010, by a source within the HET.
This source suggested that fingerprint evidence was available
and he was naming John Downey,
the evidence was pointing to John Downey.
The HET source suggested that there was sufficient evidence
for at least to go for extradition or at least an arrest and interview
because he believed this person was entering Northern Ireland
and that he should be arrested and interviewed...at the least.
John Downey was leaving his home in Donegal
to visit Northern Ireland regularly,
but he was never arrested for questioning about the UDR killings.
In 2010, the HET finished their report.
They had completely reversed their position,
they told the families there was no point in arresting the suspect
because he was unlikely to make an admission.
I have never seen a case similar to this where it has
basically been swept under the carpet and forgotten about.
Was it worth bringing the boxes to Belfast? Up to HET?
hard to say. Erm...
The statements in the boxes... There was fingerprint evidence,
there was photographs.
There has been no-one convicted since.
I don't know, I may as well have brought them out
and put them in the incinerator.
Evidence has been taken at the scene, at the time.
Nothing was ever done about that.
I am so incensed...
..and I am incensed that this information...
The more I read...
the more flabbergasted I am to think there was no means to use evidence
and tie it up and make a case, but there has been nothing.
I have to say, I have lost my faith in...delivery of justice.
Personally, I have lost my faith.
I served for 31 years in the Police Service, it is hard to say,
but I don't have the same respect for them upholding law and order
and I think that's been proved in the Johnston-Eames case.
As we know, John Downey travelled into the UK repeatedly
after he got his letter in 2007.
But when he went through Gatwick Airport on his way to Greece last year,
airport security spotted what the PSNI had ignored.
John Downey was still wanted for the Hyde Park bombing.
But Ian Paisley Junior suggests there might be
another explanation for the arrest.
What has been put to me is that
a senior PSNI officer knew the letter
which John Downey had received was inaccurate.
Did not challenge it because they had hoped he would come into
the United Kingdom and that the letter gave him,
hopefully, the view that he could come in freely.
So, he was lured in, on that basis.
I think that's worth investigating.
Downey was arrested, but never brought to trial.
When he produced his letter, a senior judge ruled
that it effectively protected him from prosecution.
The judge also revealed that similar letters had been sent
to 186 other people
and that was what unleashed a political storm.
OTRs, on-the-runs, were being dealt with
and to sit there to say that you didn't know about the OTRs... and that's 2009.
And where does it say there was an administrative scheme to deal with the issue?
-Where does it say in that that you have read?
-No, it doesn't!
The DUP claimed to know nothing about the
so-called "letters of comfort"
and the First Minister threatened to step down
unless the letters were rescinded.
I am not prepared to be the head of a government
that's kept in the dark in this way. I want there to be full disclosure.
I want the people of Northern Ireland to know what's gone on.
To stave off Peter Robinson's resignation,
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
said it would be made clear
people who received the letters could still be arrested
The DUP said the letters had been rendered null and void.
I think that makes it very clear
that they have a fairly worthless piece of paper.
For if any evidence or information comes forward,
they can be questioned and as a result of questioning, of course,
if sufficient evidence is there, they can, of course, be prosecuted.
So, if John Downey comes back to Northern Ireland, does that mean
he could be prosecuted, in particular, for the UDR killings at Cherrymount?
Barrister Gavin Duffy says there would have to be new evidence
to bring a case.
If there is evidence that was not available
at the time that the letter was issued, the prosecution
are at liberty to consider issuing proceedings against him.
If he is in the jurisdiction,
he is liable to arrest and liable then to prosecution in relation
to any offence like that, but that really would depend upon there being
evidence which was not available in 2007 when the letter was issued.
While it seems inexplicable Downey was told he wasn't wanted,
the fingerprint evidence cannot be regarded as new
evidence because the PSNI knew about it when he got his letter.
So the question now is, how could the mistakes have been made?
And that, essentially, is what David Cameron
has appointed a High Court judge to investigate.
The review will be looking at how the process was handled.
Whether other letters were given out in error as they were in the Downey case.
What it will not be doing is starting to investigate new evidence
against those people who received the letters.
And so, it won't, in itself,
create a situation in which prosecutions can be pursued.
It doesn't seem to me that the review will really look at questions
of legality and it may well be that this particular inquiry
will be focused on trying
to uncover the exact circumstances under which the mistake was made.
Ian Paisley sits on the Northern Ireland Select Affairs Committee
which has also launched an inquiry.
He is determined to get former Prime Minister Tony Blair
in front of the committee to account for the OTR letters.
After all, the buck stopped with Tony Blair
and it is up to Tony Blair to explain this process.
What on earth was he doing?
I think it opens a whole host of matters
which Tony Blair really needs to give us
clear and precise answers on.
You will be one of the persons sitting before Tony Blair
in the Select Committee.
What will you be asking him?
Tony Blair has to come up with the truth.
Why? Why did he do this? What did he actually do?
What did he actually sign?
And answer all those questions...
And what did he get in return for all of this?
the citizens of the entire United Kingdom have been short-changed
in all of this and it is constituents of his Labour members of Parliament
who are now suffering as a result, not just constituents of mine.
Back in Birmingham, victims believe someone should be held accountable
for the OTR scheme which, they say, has added to their trauma.
Who in their right mind would think this was acceptable
and logical and moral?
Do they have no moral compass?
Is there no ethics left in our politicians today?
No longer is the door of a politician being knocked
and politicians being asked to resolve issues for victims.
Victims are now speaking themselves. They have gained the strength.
They have the courage and they want to go and speak for themselves.
If politicians come on the back of that and support them, great.
But no longer will issues be passed over to politicians.
And I'm really angry. My brother is...
There is a new tone of scepticism here about what
any of the inquiries will achieve,
from a group of people who have lost faith that the justice system
will ever convict the people who murdered their loved ones.
I have no faith in our justice system
and the likes of Hain and Blair
and their ilk are a disgrace on our political system.
John Downey strenuously denies involvement in the Hyde Park bombing.
I went to speak to him at his home in Donegal.
He did say his time in custody in London was difficult for his family.
But he declined to speak about the UDR killings in Enniskillen.
He has given an interview to his local paper
in which he spoke of his support for the peace process.
He said, "We need to move forward, peacefully, together."
Cynthia Johnston had never heard of John Downey
until he walked free from court last month, now she will find him
hard to forget as he has been linked to what the HET are said
to have described as "crucial evidence",
identified by Spotlight
as the fingerprint at the scene of her father's murder.
-If there is never any evidence, if he is never charged...
..isn't it fair that he be described as innocent?
I haven't used his name.
I have never said he is the person responsible
for the death of my father.
What I'm saying is now that a name has come up that's associated with
it, I would like an investigation to be done...
..into whatever evidence
and particularly the crucial evidence that they are talking about
to find out who did it.
Why do you think it was swept under the carpet, as you see it?
Well, dare I mention politics?
But erm...I honestly think that a lot of these letters have been
issued for political reasons, to keep Sinn Fein on board
within the political process, to keep the so-called "peace process" going.
But it has been swept under the carpet
and I can't see anything further being done about it.
The OTR letters gave some an assurance that they no longer
had to look over their shoulders.
But others, like Cynthia Johnston, ARE looking back
and are questioning why, despite the apparent evidence,
their loved one's murder appears to be a case closed?
Jennifer O'Leary reports on a case at the heart of the storm over on-the-runs and uncovers evidence kept out of the public eye for 40 years.