Thursday 19 September 2019

Police probe Downing St aide's advice to fugitive

Jonathan Powell
Jonathan Powell

David Young

Police are examining if former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell potentially perverted the course of justice by advising a republican terror suspect not to return to the UK.

A senior Metropolitan Police officer told MPs that the PSNI was "scoping" the claim to assess whether a formal criminal investigation should be launched.

Conservative MP Oliver Colvile had contacted police in London and Belfast about the matter after Mr Powell, Prime Minister Tony Blair's right-hand-man in Downing Street, referred to the episode while appearing before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last month.

While giving evidence to the committee's inquiry into a Government administrative scheme to deal with on-the-run republicans, Mr Powell was asked about his encounters with Rita O'Hare 14 years ago.

Ms O'Hare, Sinn Fein's representative to the US, is one of the most high-profile fugitive republicans, having skipped bail in 1972 after her arrest in connection with the attempted murder of a soldier.

Quizzed

Mr Powell was quizzed by Mr Colvile on a comment he had made during a meeting with Sinn Fein to the effect that Ms O'Hare should not travel to Belfast as it might result in her arrest.

He had told the committee: "Had she come back, been arrested feeling she had fallen into a trap by me trapping her into coming back, the peace process would have been dead - it would have been a very bad idea."

The Met's Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations Mark Rowley yesterday said: "We have had a conversation about which force is best placed to deal with it and the conclusion we came to is the PSNI are looking at that," the officer said.

"At the moment they are scoping whether there is sufficient evidence to merit going into a formal criminal investigation or not."

Irish Independent

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