Hundreds of IRA terrorism suspects will learn they no longer have immunity from prosecution as the Government announces that hundreds of controversial “comfort letters” are to be rescinded.
Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will tell MPs the letters, issued to individuals suspected of terrorist offences committed before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, are worthless.
Suspects are to be told that the letters, which informed them they were unlikely to face prosecution unless new evidence against them came to light, have been annulled and are “not worth the paper they are written on”.
New letters are now likely to be issued telling terrorist suspects that police will be prepared to mount a prosecution should officers believe there is already enough evidence against them to do so.
That’s all terribly well and good. but it’s not actually ministers who decide whether such letters are binding or not, is it? It’s judges:
Their existence became known after the prosecution of a suspected Hyde Park bomber collapsed amid widespread anger in February when it emerged he had been sent one of the letters.
John Downey, 62, from Donegal, was arrested last year as he passed through Gatwick airport and charged with the murder of four British soldiers in the 1982 bombing.
The case against him was thrown out by a senior judge when it became known he had received a comfort letter. The letter had in fact been sent to him by mistake, as the Metropolitan Police still had a warrant for his arrest over the Hyde Park outrage, which killed four soldiers of the Blues and Royals, who were on ceremonial duties at the time.
So what’s the likelihood that those minsters have actually bothered to get a legal opinion on this? Me, given the current shambles, I’d put it at about zero percent.
Simply because they’re such damn fools that they don’t understand that they are constrained by the law.
I have no idea at all whether the government can in fact say “Ha Ha, just fooling about those letters Paddy!” nor what the courts will say about their having done so. But I’m near certain that they won’t have bothered to check.