'Not immune' Warning to IRA suspects who were sent controversial letters

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is set to announce next week that the so-called “On the Run” letters which went to around 190 IRA suspects who were in hiding from 2000 have “no legal standing” in avoiding prosecution. Mr Lewis is, according to sources, set to make the statement as he introduces the second reading of the Northern Ireland legacy bill which will offer a route for terrorists and former soldiers to be immune from prosecution for alleged atrocities.

The letters came to light when John Downey, the IRA terrorist responsible for the Hyde Park bomb in 1982 was brought to trial in 2014.

At his trial he produced a letter stating that he was no longer being pursued by the police and it led to the trial collapsing.

Five years later a civil action led to him being held responsible for the crime but he never faced criminal prosecution or jail for the atrocity which killed four soldiers in central London.

Squadron Quartermaster Corporal Roy Bright, 36, Lieutenant Dennis Daly, 23, Trooper Simon Tipper, 19, and Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young, also 19, were killed by a car bomb as they rode through the central London park for the changing of the guard.

The revelation about the letters provoked outrage and appeared to close the door for future trials of other IRA terrorists.

But a senior Whitehall source has confirmed that Mr Lewis will state in Parliament that “the letters have no legal status”.

The senior source told Express.co.uk: “We don’t need specific legislation about the letters because they never had any actual legal standing.

“But this is very important for the Secretary of State. In his notes it is in block capitals and underlined.”

The source added: “This means that IRA suspects who received letters can be prosecuted.”

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It will ask those involved in the Troubles including IRA terrorists, Loyalist volunteers and British soldiers to tell their stories and admit to past atrocities and be immune fro prosecution.

The bill is a major step in providing protection to British soldiers which has been demanded by many Conservative MPs including former armed forces minister Johnny Mercer who quit in protest over a lack of progress in the area.

By providing soldiers with immunity through the process Mr Lewis will hope to meet a key promise by Boris Johnson while striking a delicate balance with ongoing tensions in Northern Ireland.

It is hoped that it will also help pave the way for the Northern Ireland Executive and Stormont to resume with Sinn Fein now the biggest part after elections earlier this year.

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