IRA Hyde Park bombing: Man accused walks free after 'false assurance'
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IRA Hyde Park bombing: Man accused walks free after 'false assurance'

AN IRISH man accused of murdering four soldiers in a 1982 IRA bomb attack in London's Hyde Park has walked free from court after a judge ruled his trial should not go ahead because of British government assurances he received under the Good Friday agreement.

John Downey, 62, from Carrigart, Co Donegal, had denied the murder of four soldiers from the Household Cavalry following a car bomb blast on 20 July 1982.

His lawyers argued that he should not face trial because he was one of 187 IRA suspects who had been sent letters giving "a clear and unequivocal assurance" that they were no longer wanted by any police force in Britain.

The assurance had been given by the British government in return for the IRA's promise to decommission its arms.

The public interest in preventing misconduct by the authorities outweighed the public interest in a trial, Mr Justice Sweeney had ruled last week.

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After a meeting this morning with Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, the prosecution told the high court in London it would not appeal against the ruling, and reporting restrictions were lifted.

Downey was accused of planting the bomb, which killed Lieutenant Dennis Daly, 23, Trooper Simon Tipper, 19, and Lance-Corporal Geoffrey Young, 19. Corporal-Major Roy Bright, 36, died of his injuries three days later.

Two hours later, a second bomb exploded under a bandstand two miles away in Regent's Park, killing seven soldiers with the Royal Green Jackets band.

The case against Downey is believed to have relied heavily on disputed fingerprint evidence from car parks where the car was parked before the attack.

The decision not to go ahead with the trial may affect 187 "on-the-run" cases, of people wanted for terror-related offences in the Troubles who received similar assurances.

Downey had been Scotland Yard's prime suspect for the Hyde Park attack but he was never extradited from Ireland.

In May 2013 he was arrested at Gatwick Airport while en route to Greece and charged with the murders and bomb attack.

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Mr Downey had travelled to Britain on four previous occasions since 2010.

In Court he asked the Old Bailey to halt the prosecution saying he had received a clear written assurance from the British government that he would not be tried.

Citing an official letter he received in 2007, he read: "There are no warrants in existence, nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charging by police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you by any other police force."

He said his alleged offences had been categorised as one of the "on-the-run" cases that would no longer be pursued in the light of progress in the Good Friday agreement.

In his judgement stopping the case, Mr Justice Sweeney said Mr Downey had received an assurance that he would not face criminal charges, despite the fact that police in Northern Ireland knew he was still wanted by Scotland Yard. Although police soon realised they had made a mistake, the assurance was never withdrawn.

The Crown Prosecution Service had argued that the assurance was given in error.

Mr Justice Sweeney said this amounted to a "catastrophic failure" that misled the defendant. A trial would therefore be an abuse of executive power.

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He said: "When the defendant received his [2007 assurance] letter he was entitled to and did believe that it was the product of careful and competent further work, and that there had been a genuine and correct change of mind about him - particularly given that he was a supporter of the peace process.

"However, that assurance was wholly wrong... thus, as the prosecution conceded, the defendant was wholly misled."

"Clearly, and notwithstanding [the Good Friday Agreement], the public interest in ensuring that those who are accused of serious crime should be tried is a very strong one with the plight of the victims and their families firmly in mind.

"However, in the very particular circumstances of this case it seems to me that it is very significantly outweighed in the balancing exercise by the overlapping public interests in ensuring that executive misconduct does not undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system and bring it into disrepute, and the public interest in holding officials of the state to promises they have made in full understanding of what is involved in the bargain.

"Hence I have concluded that this is one of those rare cases in which, in the particular circumstances, it offends the court's sense of justice and propriety to be asked to try the defendant."