On the 12 March 2014 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – on the recommendation of the Lord Chief Justice – appointed the Right Honourable Lady Justice Hallett DBE to carry out an independent review of an administrative scheme by which ‘letters of assurance’ were sent to those known as the ‘on the runs’ (OTRs).
The appointment followed the collapse of the trial of John Downey. Mr Downey had received a letter of assurance from the Northern Ireland Office which suggested he was not of interest to the police anywhere in the United Kingdom. He was in fact wanted for questioning in relation to the 1982 Hyde Park bombings and in May 2013 he was arrested at Gatwick airport on his way to Greece. He was charged with 4 counts of murder. The trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney examined the effect of the administrative scheme, in particular as it related to Mr Downey, and ruled that it would be an abuse of the process of the court to continue the prosecution. He observed: “There remain gaps in the documentation and a lack of sensible explanation as to what actually happened”.
The Hallett Review was established to produce a full public account of the operation and extent of the administrative scheme for OTRs generally, to determine whether letters sent through the scheme contained errors; and, to make recommendations on this or other related matters drawn to Lady Justice Hallett’s attention.
Lady Justice Hallett said:
“I intend to conduct a full and rigorous examination of the administrative scheme from its inception to date. Although appointed by Government, I will carry out my task independently and impartially.
“I intend to:
seek independent expert assistance to conduct an examination of relevant police databases in relation to all the recipients of the letters of assurance.
examine documentation relating to the scheme and individuals held by bodies such as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the Metropolitan Police, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Office, the Cabinet Office and the office of Her Majesty’s Attorney General.
interview a range of individuals, including political figures, civil servants and police officers involved in the OTR scheme.
“I have been promised full co-operation and access to all relevant material by the relevant Government departments and agencies.
“No individual or organisation is on trial. However, I am seeking to establish the facts and where necessary, accountability in relation to what happened i.e. how the scheme evolved and who was/is responsible for its operation.
“It is a matter for the police and prosecuting authorities to determine whether enough evidence exists in relation to any one individual to warrant an arrest or charge. However it is a matter of fact whether or not someone is wanted and whether someone’s name appears on a database. As well as the independent analysis of the databases, I intend to sample a number of case files during my examination of police and prosecution records, to ascertain whether or not any other recipients of the letters have been told they are not of interest to the police when in fact they are.
“I encourage anyone who may be able to assist to come forward and contact the Review to provide information or make representations.“
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