Letters of the Law Spotlight


Letters of the Law

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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Transcript


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# Here I am again

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# Back on the corner again

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# Back where I belong

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# Where I've always been. #

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Cynthia Johnston was seven years old

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when her father was killed by an IRA booby-trap in 1972.

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She left Enniskillen when she was 22.

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Now, she's come home,

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the trip prompted by the dramatic collapse

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of a trial of a man she's never met,

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a man Cynthia believes may have answers about her father's death.

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The Hyde Park bomb suspect John Downey

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walked free from court last month

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after he produced a Government letter

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saying he wasn't wanted for the attack.

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The case also brought to light

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details of a secret deal for so-called on-the-runs.

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When the story broke,

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it lifted the lid Cynthia Johnston had closed

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on the events of 1972

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and opened up a whole new set of questions for her

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because the judge revealed for the first time

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that John Downey was also a suspect

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in the bomb attack that killed her father.

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Spotlight has uncovered inconsistencies

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in police handling of John Downey

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in relation to his suspected involvement in that attack.

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The Hyde Park prosecution collapsed

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because of what the judge said was a catastrophic failure.

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Cynthia Johnston is now asking if the police

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have also made a mistake about her father's case.

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I want those answers.

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My father deserves answers.

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Anybody who has died of a violent death

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has the right to have their case investigated.

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Coming up here, this was my primary school.

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-Really?

-Uh-huh.

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'I left Enniskillen in 1987.

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'Part of it was an escape, I think.

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'Then it was just the individual loss of a person.

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'That is something that you can't really get over.'

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Well, this is the spot where the explosion happened.

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This is the spot where my dad was killed

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along with his colleague, James Eames.

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This is it, this is the place.

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'Someone unknown to Cynthia

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'has placed two crosses at the site of the attack.'

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It's such a respectful thing, you know?

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They were nice men, well-liked.

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I'm not surprised that somebody has done this.

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I know you'd spoken to me on the drive down here

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and you had said that you're not bitter.

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No.

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But I still want justice and I still want answers.

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Cynthia's father, Alfred Johnston, lived in Enniskillen,

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where he served as a part-time member

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of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

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The 32-year-old was the senior member

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of a group of four close friends,

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all soldiers with the regiment.

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Private James Eames, a Post Office engineer in the town,

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the youngest member of the group, 22-year-old Ronald Glass...

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..and the fourth man, Robert Cranston.

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Well, we met through the Territorial Army

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and it was always good fun with each other.

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And I just suppose that would have carried on

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when we did go into the UDR.

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We would have had a better banter together, as well.

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And it was more like a family, really,

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and they did look after each other.

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Cherrymount and the Irvinestown Road outside Enniskillen...

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the 25th of August, 1972.

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A UDR team on patrol.

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The four-man unit -

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Glass, Cranston, Johnston and Eames.

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A couple of minutes to midnight

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and the men are nearing the end of their shift.

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We had been briefed before going out that a car had been stolen

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and that's when we noticed the strange car

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pulled in very closely to the side of the road.

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The patrol need to inform their superiors

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about the suspicious vehicle.

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There were no radios available for us

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as the radios were giving problems, at that time.

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That is the reason why Alfie and Jimmy

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were going to the phone box -

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because we had no way of contacting base

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without the radios.

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We went down, back down the road, and cut into the hedge to observe

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if anyone came to lift it or, you know, any movement around it.

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But there were others hiding in ditches that night,

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also watching.

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In the field above the car,

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an IRA bomber was waiting for a lorry carrying off-duty squaddies

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to return from recreational leave in town.

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An army lorry came from the Enniskillen direction

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and just watched it come out to opposite the car

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and the blast went up.

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There was a flash, a bang and just...

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it was sort of mayhem, then,

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with soldiers jumping out of the lorry and...

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There were soldiers crying and...

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..some injured and...

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Just basically from that...

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It's hard to know what everything really came in, then,

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all the forces came in and we got...

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Sorry.

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There was a search started for Alfie and Jimmy.

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We had been calling for them but no answer.

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Another fellow that we knew that was in the UDR, he came along

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and showed us a bit of a coloured belt

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which we knew that everyone was wearing.

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We knew then that...

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..things were a lot worse than what we had thought they were.

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Quite easily, all four of us could've been killed.

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Quite easily.

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And the amazing thing is, like,

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it was a bomb that wasn't even meant for us.

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So, Robert, this is footage of that scene.

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-Yes.

-So have a look at this.

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That's from the next day.

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That's atrocious.

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Like so many others who've suffered,

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Robert had assumed the trail had gone cold

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and the investigation consigned to history.

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I thought it had just been forgotten about,

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like so many others.

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I felt that it was just a statistic in a book.

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So who killed Lance Corporal Johnston

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and Private James Eames?

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The Downey judgment revealed that there was evidence

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linking John Downey to the Cherrymount bomb.

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Tonight, Spotlight can reveal the nature of that evidence.

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A single fingerprint

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found on the tape wrapped around the bomb's batteries,

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recovered from the scene.

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The information comes from a Historical Enquiries Team report

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into the Cherrymount bomb.

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It shows the RUC had evidence to connect two men to the attack.

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One suspect, a man with bomb-making experience,

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has since died.

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The fingerprint which was found belonged to the second suspect

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but he could not be identified at the time.

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Fingerprint evidence from scores of people known to Gardai

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had been passed on to the RUC at various times in the 1970s.

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On at least one occasion, John Downey's prints were shared.

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Two Garda officers were shot dead in Roscommon in July, 1980.

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And a set of fingerprints taken that day,

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of a man living in Cavan,

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were given to the RUC and to the Metropolitan Police.

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They were identical to fingerprints found

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on the bomb that killed Johnston and Eames.

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Suspect two could now be identified

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as John Downey.

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Despite this, no attempt was made by the RUC

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to extradite John Downey from the Republic.

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And the fact that he was wanted for questioning

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about the Eames-Johnston murder

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was not circulated to police in Britain.

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I found it very, very upsetting

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that there seemed to be no move forward at that time.

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If that information was used wisely,

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we know that a person could possibly have been stopped

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and the people that he worked with could possibly have been stopped.

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Garda authorities considered Downey

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to be one of the most senior IRA figures in the Republic.

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And they believed on at least two occasions

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he met with IRA operatives in Dublin

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known to be travelling to and from England.

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'An amateur cameraman took these pictures

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'minutes after the explosion at Harrods.'

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In the early 1980s, England was a key target for the IRA.

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A series of high-profile locations were bombed.

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'..officers killed and injured

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'were caught in the blast as they examined the car...'

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Still wanted in Northern Ireland,

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John Downey was free to travel to London in 1982.

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The attack in Hyde Park proved to be

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one of the most notorious IRA atrocities.

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Four soldiers from the Household Cavalry

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were killed by the blast

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and several were injured.

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Seven of their horses also died.

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'In all, 23 people were taken to hospital,

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'17 of them civilians who had simply been passing by.'

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Police investigating the bombing got an early breakthrough.

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The car that carried the bomb

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had been in two London car parks,

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leaving the second just four hours before the explosion.

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And the tickets handed in to those car parks

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both had John Downey's fingerprints on them.

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These fingerprints matched the set of John Downey's fingerprints

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taken by Garda officers.

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He was also identified from an artist's impression

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of a suspect seen by eyewitnesses.

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Ten months after the bombing,

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the Met announced that they wanted John Downey

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for conspiracy to murder.

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'Scotland Yard say they still think he's hiding in Britain.'

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'Beneath the debris, dozens of people lay buried.

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'One question - Was the Prime Minister safe?'

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In 1984, the IRA bombed the Tory Party Conference,

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killing five people in an attempt to wipe out the British Cabinet.

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According to the HET report into the death of Cynthia's father,

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John Downey's name was circulated by police

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as wanted throughout the UK

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in connection with the Brighton bomb.

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But Sussex Police now tell us

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that John Downey is not currently wanted for the Brighton bombing.

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The HET report found

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suspect two for the murder of your father

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was also wanted for questioning in relation to Hyde Park.

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Mm-hm.

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What was your reaction when you read those details in the report?

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It's shocking, to be perfectly honest with you. And...

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That is one thing I've really struggled with.

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I just really struggled with that. I just...

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You know, I am somebody who asks questions of things all the time

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and I just pointed that out

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to a member of the HET team at the time.

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I said, "Do you not think that if more was done

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"this person could have been stopped in his tracks?"

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The RUC only considered extraditing Downey

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for the UDR killings in Enniskillen

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after he became a high-profile suspect in Britain.

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The Director Of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland refused,

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saying the fingerprint evidence was wholly insufficient.

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Four years later, the Met tried and failed

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to get the Attorney General to apply for Downey's extradition.

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In the unsettled political climate

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following the release of the Guildford Four,

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it was considered unlikely

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that such an application would be successful.

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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But there was enough evidence to justify questioning John Downey,

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so why was he sent a letter

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saying he wasn't wanted by the police in 2007?

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For other victims of The Troubles,

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the fear is that those suspected of murdering their relatives

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have also wrongly been told they're not wanted.

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Last weekend, a group of 50 travelled from Northern Ireland to England,

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where they met the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings.

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Julie Hambleton, whose sister was killed in the 1974 atrocity,

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organised the informal get-together

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to strengthen ties between Northern Irish and English victims.

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I know I'm preaching to the converted, here.

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Many of you know the grief and the suffering and the loss

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that we know, as a family.

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The OTR letters are meant to be statements of fact -

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an individual is not wanted by police.

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But that's not how it feels to many relatives.

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'My sister went out that night and she was killed.

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'Nearly 40 years on, it's 40 years this year,'

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we then find out that terrorists,

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known terrorists,

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have been given letters for Get Out Of Jail Free cards.

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What on earth is happening to our justice system?

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Stephen Gault,

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whose father was killed in the 1987 Enniskillen bomb,

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travelled to Birmingham.

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He was also one of a group of victims

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who expressed their anger about the OTRs

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directly to politicians, at Stormont.

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HE SHOUTS

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'To say I was upset was an understatement.'

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I felt sick, re-traumatised.

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The whole thing brought back painful memories

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of the day my father was murdered.

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I know from the press that there was two people

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that were connected to the Enniskillen poppy day bombing.

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That received OTR letters. There is more than me that are feeling

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very, very upset and hurt at the minute.

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It just devastated me.

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What killed me the most, was that

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those people who we were supposed to trust,

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those people who we put our faith into,

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those people who are supposed to protect the most vulnerable...

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had just dismissed our grief and our loved ones' justice.

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What distinguishes the Downey letter from others

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is that the Downey letter was issued in error, he WAS wanted by the Met.

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But leaving that error aside,

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how could John Downey NOT be wanted for questioning

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about the Cherrymount UDR bombing?

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CHEERING AND SHOUTING

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As part of the Good Friday Agreement,

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hundreds of paramilitary prisoners

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walked free between 1998 and 2000,

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but in the years of negotiations that followed

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Sinn Fein pushed for a deal

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for people who were still wanted by police,

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the so-called on-the-runs.

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John Downey's name was among hundreds passed to the British Government by Sinn Fein.

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The party first asked for his case to be considered in 2002.

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In 2004, word came back that John Downey was a wanted man.

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The original fingerprint had been lost, but a photograph of it

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still existed and the PSNI believed they had enough evidence to

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arrest and question Downey about the killing of Johnston and Eames.

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Alex Elliott was a PSNI officer who took a personal interest in the case.

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He saw the police file.

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I knew that there was a suspect,

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a named suspect in the case.

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You knew that there was evidence in the form of fingerprint evidence?

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Yes, I did.

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Despite this, Sinn Fein continued to ask about John Downey's status.

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On three separate occasions in 2006, the authorities confirmed

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Downey was a wanted man and again, in January 2007.

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Then this happened...

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If you had told me some time ago that I would be standing here

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to take this office,

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I would have been totally unbelieving.

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May 8th, 2007 was devolution day at Stormont, the day when Sinn Fein and

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the DUP took up the reins of power together.

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Two days later,

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the PSNI decided John Downey was no longer a wanted man.

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He was sent a letter indicating he was in the clear.

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It seems, right up until 2006, and 2007, he was wanted by the PSNI,

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the PSNI would have arrested him and investigated him

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if he had come back to Northern Ireland.

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But that position changed.

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He was issued with the letter to say he was no longer actively being pursued.

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There is no explanation for the change in the PSNI's

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interest in pursuing Downey for prosecution.

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For more than 25 years, police thought the evidence from the Cherrymount bombing

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was good enough to arrest and question John Downey.

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And then, suddenly, they didn't.

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We've asked the PSNI what changed their mind about arresting

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John Downey for the UDR killings.

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They didn't answer our question, but said

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they intend to re-examine cases involving 228 named individuals.

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A year after John Downey got his letter,

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the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team looked at the file reviewed by Alex Elliott.

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Based on the evidence, they wanted to issue a new alert,

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naming Downey as wanted for the Cherrymount murders,

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a fact confirmed to Alex Elliott by a source.

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I was contacted in late 2010, by a source within the HET.

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This source suggested that fingerprint evidence was available

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and he was naming John Downey,

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the evidence was pointing to John Downey.

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The HET source suggested that there was sufficient evidence

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for at least to go for extradition or at least an arrest and interview

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because he believed this person was entering Northern Ireland

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and that he should be arrested and interviewed...at the least.

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John Downey was leaving his home in Donegal

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to visit Northern Ireland regularly,

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but he was never arrested for questioning about the UDR killings.

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In 2010, the HET finished their report.

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They had completely reversed their position,

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they told the families there was no point in arresting the suspect

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because he was unlikely to make an admission.

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I have never seen a case similar to this where it has

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basically been swept under the carpet and forgotten about.

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Was it worth bringing the boxes to Belfast? Up to HET?

0:20:140:20:17

Well...

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hard to say. Erm...

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The statements in the boxes... There was fingerprint evidence,

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there was photographs.

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There has been no-one convicted since.

0:20:280:20:31

I don't know, I may as well have brought them out

0:20:330:20:35

and put them in the incinerator.

0:20:350:20:37

Evidence has been taken at the scene, at the time.

0:20:370:20:40

Nothing was ever done about that.

0:20:400:20:43

I am so incensed...

0:20:430:20:46

..and I am incensed that this information...

0:20:470:20:51

has...been there.

0:20:510:20:54

The more I read...

0:20:540:20:56

the more flabbergasted I am to think there was no means to use evidence

0:20:560:21:02

and tie it up and make a case, but there has been nothing.

0:21:020:21:07

I have to say, I have lost my faith in...delivery of justice.

0:21:070:21:13

Personally, I have lost my faith.

0:21:130:21:15

I served for 31 years in the Police Service, it is hard to say,

0:21:150:21:19

but I don't have the same respect for them upholding law and order

0:21:190:21:23

and I think that's been proved in the Johnston-Eames case.

0:21:230:21:26

As we know, John Downey travelled into the UK repeatedly

0:21:290:21:33

after he got his letter in 2007.

0:21:330:21:35

But when he went through Gatwick Airport on his way to Greece last year,

0:21:370:21:41

airport security spotted what the PSNI had ignored.

0:21:410:21:45

John Downey was still wanted for the Hyde Park bombing.

0:21:450:21:49

But Ian Paisley Junior suggests there might be

0:21:520:21:55

another explanation for the arrest.

0:21:550:21:57

What has been put to me is that

0:21:570:21:59

a senior PSNI officer knew the letter

0:21:590:22:01

which John Downey had received was inaccurate.

0:22:010:22:04

Did not challenge it because they had hoped he would come into

0:22:040:22:07

the United Kingdom and that the letter gave him,

0:22:070:22:10

hopefully, the view that he could come in freely.

0:22:100:22:12

So, he was lured in, on that basis.

0:22:120:22:14

I think that's worth investigating.

0:22:140:22:16

Downey was arrested, but never brought to trial.

0:22:170:22:20

When he produced his letter, a senior judge ruled

0:22:200:22:23

that it effectively protected him from prosecution.

0:22:230:22:27

The judge also revealed that similar letters had been sent

0:22:270:22:31

to 186 other people

0:22:310:22:33

and that was what unleashed a political storm.

0:22:330:22:37

OTRs, on-the-runs, were being dealt with

0:22:370:22:40

and to sit there to say that you didn't know about the OTRs... and that's 2009.

0:22:400:22:43

And where does it say there was an administrative scheme to deal with the issue?

0:22:430:22:47

-Where does it say in that that you have read?

-It doesn't.

-No, it doesn't!

0:22:470:22:50

The DUP claimed to know nothing about the

0:22:500:22:53

so-called "letters of comfort"

0:22:530:22:54

and the First Minister threatened to step down

0:22:540:22:57

unless the letters were rescinded.

0:22:570:22:59

I am not prepared to be the head of a government

0:22:590:23:01

that's kept in the dark in this way. I want there to be full disclosure.

0:23:010:23:05

I want the people of Northern Ireland to know what's gone on.

0:23:050:23:08

To stave off Peter Robinson's resignation,

0:23:080:23:11

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

0:23:110:23:13

said it would be made clear

0:23:130:23:15

people who received the letters could still be arrested

0:23:150:23:18

and questioned.

0:23:180:23:19

The DUP said the letters had been rendered null and void.

0:23:190:23:23

I think that makes it very clear

0:23:230:23:25

that they have a fairly worthless piece of paper.

0:23:250:23:29

For if any evidence or information comes forward,

0:23:290:23:32

they can be questioned and as a result of questioning, of course,

0:23:320:23:36

if sufficient evidence is there, they can, of course, be prosecuted.

0:23:360:23:41

So, if John Downey comes back to Northern Ireland, does that mean

0:23:410:23:45

he could be prosecuted, in particular, for the UDR killings at Cherrymount?

0:23:450:23:49

Barrister Gavin Duffy says there would have to be new evidence

0:23:520:23:56

to bring a case.

0:23:560:23:58

If there is evidence that was not available

0:23:580:24:00

at the time that the letter was issued, the prosecution

0:24:000:24:05

are at liberty to consider issuing proceedings against him.

0:24:050:24:10

If he is in the jurisdiction,

0:24:100:24:12

he is liable to arrest and liable then to prosecution in relation

0:24:120:24:17

to any offence like that, but that really would depend upon there being

0:24:170:24:22

evidence which was not available in 2007 when the letter was issued.

0:24:220:24:28

While it seems inexplicable Downey was told he wasn't wanted,

0:24:280:24:32

the fingerprint evidence cannot be regarded as new

0:24:320:24:35

evidence because the PSNI knew about it when he got his letter.

0:24:350:24:40

So the question now is, how could the mistakes have been made?

0:24:410:24:45

And that, essentially, is what David Cameron

0:24:450:24:48

has appointed a High Court judge to investigate.

0:24:480:24:51

The review will be looking at how the process was handled.

0:24:510:24:54

Whether other letters were given out in error as they were in the Downey case.

0:24:540:24:58

What it will not be doing is starting to investigate new evidence

0:24:580:25:01

against those people who received the letters.

0:25:010:25:03

And so, it won't, in itself,

0:25:030:25:05

create a situation in which prosecutions can be pursued.

0:25:050:25:08

It doesn't seem to me that the review will really look at questions

0:25:080:25:12

of legality and it may well be that this particular inquiry

0:25:120:25:16

will be focused on trying

0:25:160:25:19

to uncover the exact circumstances under which the mistake was made.

0:25:190:25:22

Ian Paisley sits on the Northern Ireland Select Affairs Committee

0:25:240:25:28

which has also launched an inquiry.

0:25:280:25:30

He is determined to get former Prime Minister Tony Blair

0:25:300:25:34

in front of the committee to account for the OTR letters.

0:25:340:25:38

After all, the buck stopped with Tony Blair

0:25:380:25:41

and it is up to Tony Blair to explain this process.

0:25:410:25:44

What on earth was he doing?

0:25:440:25:46

I think it opens a whole host of matters

0:25:460:25:48

which Tony Blair really needs to give us

0:25:480:25:51

clear and precise answers on.

0:25:510:25:53

You will be one of the persons sitting before Tony Blair

0:25:530:25:55

in the Select Committee.

0:25:550:25:57

What will you be asking him?

0:25:570:25:59

Tony Blair has to come up with the truth.

0:25:590:26:01

Why? Why did he do this? What did he actually do?

0:26:010:26:05

What did he actually sign?

0:26:050:26:07

And answer all those questions...

0:26:070:26:09

And what did he get in return for all of this?

0:26:090:26:11

Because, clearly,

0:26:110:26:13

the citizens of the entire United Kingdom have been short-changed

0:26:130:26:17

in all of this and it is constituents of his Labour members of Parliament

0:26:170:26:23

who are now suffering as a result, not just constituents of mine.

0:26:230:26:27

Back in Birmingham, victims believe someone should be held accountable

0:26:290:26:34

for the OTR scheme which, they say, has added to their trauma.

0:26:340:26:39

Who in their right mind would think this was acceptable

0:26:390:26:43

and logical and moral?

0:26:430:26:45

Do they have no moral compass?

0:26:450:26:48

Is there no ethics left in our politicians today?

0:26:480:26:52

No longer is the door of a politician being knocked

0:26:520:26:54

and politicians being asked to resolve issues for victims.

0:26:540:26:57

Victims are now speaking themselves. They have gained the strength.

0:26:570:27:00

They have the courage and they want to go and speak for themselves.

0:27:000:27:04

If politicians come on the back of that and support them, great.

0:27:040:27:07

But no longer will issues be passed over to politicians.

0:27:070:27:10

I'm angry.

0:27:100:27:11

And I'm really angry. My brother is...

0:27:110:27:13

There is a new tone of scepticism here about what

0:27:130:27:16

any of the inquiries will achieve,

0:27:160:27:18

from a group of people who have lost faith that the justice system

0:27:180:27:22

will ever convict the people who murdered their loved ones.

0:27:220:27:25

I have no faith in our justice system

0:27:270:27:29

and the likes of Hain and Blair

0:27:290:27:32

and their ilk are a disgrace on our political system.

0:27:320:27:36

John Downey strenuously denies involvement in the Hyde Park bombing.

0:27:360:27:41

I went to speak to him at his home in Donegal.

0:27:410:27:43

He did say his time in custody in London was difficult for his family.

0:27:430:27:48

But he declined to speak about the UDR killings in Enniskillen.

0:27:480:27:52

He has given an interview to his local paper

0:27:540:27:57

in which he spoke of his support for the peace process.

0:27:570:28:01

He said, "We need to move forward, peacefully, together."

0:28:010:28:04

Cynthia Johnston had never heard of John Downey

0:28:060:28:10

until he walked free from court last month, now she will find him

0:28:100:28:14

hard to forget as he has been linked to what the HET are said

0:28:140:28:18

to have described as "crucial evidence",

0:28:180:28:20

identified by Spotlight

0:28:200:28:22

as the fingerprint at the scene of her father's murder.

0:28:220:28:27

-If there is never any evidence, if he is never charged...

-Uh-hm.

0:28:270:28:32

..isn't it fair that he be described as innocent?

0:28:320:28:37

Yes. Uh-hm.

0:28:370:28:39

I haven't used his name.

0:28:400:28:41

I have never said he is the person responsible

0:28:410:28:44

for the death of my father.

0:28:440:28:45

What I'm saying is now that a name has come up that's associated with

0:28:450:28:49

it, I would like an investigation to be done...

0:28:490:28:52

..into whatever evidence

0:28:520:28:54

and particularly the crucial evidence that they are talking about

0:28:540:28:57

to find out who did it.

0:28:570:28:59

Why do you think it was swept under the carpet, as you see it?

0:28:590:29:02

Well, dare I mention politics?

0:29:020:29:05

But erm...I honestly think that a lot of these letters have been

0:29:050:29:09

issued for political reasons, to keep Sinn Fein on board

0:29:090:29:13

within the political process, to keep the so-called "peace process" going.

0:29:130:29:18

Who knows?

0:29:180:29:19

But it has been swept under the carpet

0:29:190:29:22

and I can't see anything further being done about it.

0:29:220:29:25

The OTR letters gave some an assurance that they no longer

0:29:280:29:32

had to look over their shoulders.

0:29:320:29:35

But others, like Cynthia Johnston, ARE looking back

0:29:350:29:39

and are questioning why, despite the apparent evidence,

0:29:390:29:43

their loved one's murder appears to be a case closed?

0:29:430:29:48

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.


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