Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Nothing new' in murder review involving man cleared of the IRA's Hyde Park bombing

A review of intelligence linking a man cleared of the IRA's Hyde Park bombing to two other murders found no new evidence, a former senior detective in Northern Ireland said.

Prosecutors had already decided there was insufficient material to charge John Downey with the killing of two Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers in Enniskillen in Co Fermanagh in 1972.

Dave Cox is a former head of a team of detectives which is reviewing more than 3,000 unresolved murders during the Northern Ireland conflict, including the case potentially involving Mr Downey.

He said: "There was nothing new that we had recovered."

He told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs that his officers had not found anything that the police had not already shown to the prosecution authorities, including a photo.

A judge stopped the trial of Mr Downey for the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, which killed four soldiers, because he had mistakenly received a "letter of comfort" assuring him that he was not wanted when the Metropolitan Police were looking for him.

Mr Downey denied involvement in the attack.

Police in Northern Ireland have been heavily criticised for their handling of the case.

Halting the prosecution at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Sweeney said sending the letter to Mr Downey had been a ''catastrophic'' mistake.

Mr Cox said wryly: "I might ask what lotto numbers he picks."

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable Matt Baggott apologised on behalf of the force following the judgment.

Mr Cox, who retired from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) following a damning report into the unit from Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, said the organisation had referred 63 cases for further work by the PSNI, 40% involving republican cases and most of the rest surrounding a small number of loyalists suspected of many murders.

He said the work of the HET could never be finished and recalled that its investigations often extended into areas not normally considered by police - like allegations of collusion with the security forces.

Cases have been brought by prosecutors following HET investigations, most notably one where the palm print of a suspect was recovered, Mr Cox said.

But at points the HET departed from accepted police models to meet targets for getting through the requisite number of cases on a monthly basis.

Mr Cox said: "It became akin to running a monthly magazine.

"We ran an editorial press and it was all around getting reports out on a weekly basis.

"We were expected to complete some 30 to 40 reviews a month by the civil servants, we were finding the only way we could do that was to abandon hidebound police ideas and come up with a completely new model."

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