POLICE in the North of Ireland have accepted “full responsibility” for failures which resulted in the collapse of the trial of an Irish man accused of murdering four soldiers in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing.
PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott apologised to the families of the victims and survivors of the IRA atrocity after an oversight led to 62-year-old Donegal man John Downey being given a false assurance that he was not wanted by British police over the attack.
He said: “I wish to apologise to the families of the victims and survivors of the Hyde Park atrocity. I deeply regret these failings, which should not have happened.
“We are currently carrying out a check of these cases to ensure the accuracy of information processed by the PSNI.”
Sir Hugh Orde, the former chief constable of Northern Ireland and current president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, added that the failure was a matter of “great personal regret”.
He said: “I accept the findings of the court today, which have been reached following Mr Justice Sweeney’s consideration of a long and complex chain of events stretching back over 30 years, including decisions made in the context of a delicate and, at times, turbulent peace process in Northern Ireland and the policing and judicial landscape that adapted in tandem with that process.
“It is a matter of great personal regret that a crucial oversight was made by a senior officer which resulted in erroneous information being sent to Mr Downey by the Northern Ireland Office and thus prejudicing the current indictment.”
The legal debate raises questions with the PSNI which, the court heard, knew about the British arrest warrant for John Downey but did nothing to correct the error of 2007.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said police in Northern Ireland should reflect on “the serious error” following the collapse of the Downey prosecution.
She said the Government does not support amnesties for people wanted in connection with terrorist offences.