MLA takes ‘little comfort’ from ‘on-the-runs’ report

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Lagan Valley MLA Jonathan Craig has said he takes ‘little comfort’ from the recent report into the so-called ‘on-the-runs’ letters.

Lady Justice Hallett was tasked with investigating the controversial process that saw ‘comfort letters’ being sent to people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.

The judge found that 13 convicted on the run terrorists — though not any who had yet to be convicted — were given the Royal Prerogative of Mercy between 2000 and 2002.

The report was revealed by Secretary of State Therasa Villiers in the House of Commons last week.

Ms Villiers said that the judge was clear that the scheme “did not amount to an amnesty for terrorists” but that she had raised concerns about the lack of proper lines of accountability for those operating the scheme.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers told the Commons: “I would emphasise that Lady Justice Hallett has found no evidence that either politicians or officials ever interfered improperly with due process of law or the operational independence of police or prosecutors.

“The report concludes that the scheme did not impact on police investigations into historic terrorist offences.

“PSNI and HET files on terrorist crimes were not closed. There was no chilling effect.”

Mr Craig, whose cousin Geoffrey Campbell was killed in the bombing of Newry police station in 1985, said he had tabled a question with the Chief Constable questioning why the Policing Board had not been informed of the process at an early stage.

“I think the report was interesting as Lady Justice Hallett pointed out that while the it wasn’t a secret document, it definitely wasn’t publicised and was deliberately kept away from some political parties,” said Mr Craig.

“That is quite an interesting statement. There was definitely an attempt made to keep it under wraps.

“The other interesting thing she points out is that, according to the report, in December 2011, it was made clear to the police that these letters of comfort were being handed out. In light of that, I have tabled a question with the Chief Constable asking why the Policing Board was not at that stage made fully aware.

“This raises very serious issues for the Board as their role was undermined for the sake of political expediency.

“I take little comfort in the fact this report has revealed that for political expediency victims were left completely in the dark.

“The government of the day, and indeed the current government, has a lot of questions to answer as to why this process was allowed to take place without the full knowledge and consent of victims and their families. Perhaps it was because they knew they would never get that consent.”

Mr Craig, who is also a member of the Policing Board, said he would be pushing for further investigation into the matter and particularly the role of both the Police and the Policing Board.

Stormont Justice Minister David Ford said he wanted to ensure the justice system was fit for purpose in 2014 following publication of the report.

“It certainly makes clear that the OTR scheme was flawed. What I am concerned about, as minister for justice, is to see that we provide confidence in the system by dealing with some of the outstanding issues highlighted by Lady Justice Hallett which need to be resolved.”