Monday 26 August 2019

Alleged IRA bomber and 'on-the-run' paramilitary given date to appeal pending extradition to Northern Ireland

John Downey arrives for an extradition hearing at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin on Monday January 28, 2019. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
John Downey arrives for an extradition hearing at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin on Monday January 28, 2019. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ruaidhrí Giblin

A Donegal man who received a so-called “comfort letter” in relation to the 1982 London Hyde Park bombing, has been given a date to appeal his proposed extradition for the 1972 Enniskillen bombing.

Northern Irish authorities are seeking to extradite John Downey (67) to face prosecution for the murder of two British Army Infantrymen as well as aiding and abetting the causing of an explosion on August 25, 1972. Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers Lance Corporal Alfred Johnston and Private James Eames were killed when a device exploded in a vehicle they were checking on the Irvinestown Road, Cherrymount, in Enniskillen.

Mr Downey was arrested last November at his home address in Ards, Creeslough, Co Donegal on foot of a European Arrest Warrant. He told detectives he believed “it was the DUP and not the DPP” who decided to prosecute him.

The High Court in Dublin ordered Mr Downey’s extradition in March, despite objections on grounds of delay and a letter of assurance he believes amounts to a pardon or amnesty.

Mr Downey’s trial in relation to the 1982 London Hyde Park bombing, in which four soldiers and seven horses were killed, collapsed in February 2014 over a letter sent to him and other alleged republican paramilitaries.

The so-called “comfort letters", issued by the Tony Blair government, told republican paramilitaries they were not wanted for prosecution of crimes committed during the troubles.

The “on-the-run” scheme and letters, which fully emerged following the collapse of Mr Downey’s 2014 trial in relation to the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, triggered a major political controversy and lead to an inquiry.

Mr Downey has lodged an appeal against his proposed extradition to Northern Ireland.

During case management procedures today President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham fixed May 27 next as the date for hearing of the appeal.

In the High Court, Mr Downey’s lawyers said their client had recently turned 67 and it was “safe to say” he was not in good health. He faced the prospect of a lengthy trial process and there was no guarantee he would be admitted to bail.

Garnet Orange SC, for Mr Downey, said there was doubt over whether alleged evidence in relation to the 1972 bombing “actually exists anymore”.

Mr Downey’s fingerprints are alleged to have been found on adhesive tape recovered from a battery pack used in the Enniskillen bombing, the High Court heard.

However, Mr Orange said the adhesive tape was subsequently lost for a number of years and it was unclear whether it actually still existed. He said the northern Irish prosecution intended to rely on statements from two critical prosecution witnesses in relation to the tape and its analysis, who were now deceased.

Ordering his surrender, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, the High Court judge in charge of extradition, said she rejected each of Mr Downey's objections.

Ms Justice Donnelly said it was “clear that the public interest in his surrender is extremely high in light of the offences” and that this remained the case despite the delay in time.

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