On the Runs scheme has "distorted the legal process"

On the Runs scheme has "distorted the legal process"

THE BRITISH Government has admitted that the controversial 'On the Runs' scheme has “distorted” the legal process.

In a report released today, by the Northern Ireland Affairs committee in Westminster, the authors state: “It is questionable whether the “on-the-runs” (OTR) scheme was lawful or not, but we believe its existence distorted the legal process.”

The report also questioned whether the scheme should ever have been implemented to begin with.

The OTR scheme was put in place at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.

Under its terms, 200 letters were issued to republicans stating that they were not wanted by the PSNI or any British police force.

The scheme was pioneered by Sinn Féin in the late 1990s.

A letter was mistakenly issued to John Downey, a republican who was later sought in connection with the 1982 Hyde Park bombings, but the error was never rectified.

Mr Downey was arrested in Britain in 2013 and his trial later collapsed because he came under the remit of the OTR scheme and therefore could not be prosecuted.

In the report the British Government commended Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers for accepting that the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) shared the blame for the "Downey error".

The investigation into the OTR scheme saw several key figures give evidence, including Tony Blair, who was the British Prime Minister when the scheme was introduced, and former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain.

The report also apologised to the families of  victims of IRA bombings, who it said “have not been served well” by the scheme.