14 October 2005

Hain in pledge over fugitive concerns

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
14 October 2005

Secretary of State Peter Hain has said the Government will address concerns that the £30m review of Troubles murders could be undermined by legislation over IRA fugitives.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson raised fears that upcoming legislation to deal with "on the runs" (OTRs) could provide a loophole for anyone accused of old murders.

The PSNI is conducting a "cold case" review of some 1,800 unsolved murders.

The OTR legislation - expected to be introduced later this month - will allow a number of wanted IRA suspects to return to Northern Ireland without the possibility of going to prison.

The DUP have said the proposals amount to an amnesty, while the Conservatives have said they will lead opposition in the Lords if suspects are not subject to a licence that could see them returned to prison.

Mr Hain said in the House of Commons yesterday that there will be mechanisms for bringing those suspects to prison if they are believed to have become involved in crime.

But Mr Wilson said the legislation could have "serious implications" for the cold case review.

"Will those whose evidence is being gathered during review be exempt from prosecution or will they simply have to skip across the border for a few days to qualify for the conditions of this legislation?" he said.

"The families who eagerly await the reopening of loved ones' cases will be shattered, if even when evidence is found to enable prosecution of their loved ones' murderers, the Secretary of State then grants them an exemption from prosecution."

Mr Hain said: "The proposition is not an amnesty because that would mean people who committed offences would in advance be released for ever from being punished for them."

He added: "Cold cases being reviewed by the Chief Constable and his officers will lead to people being charged, if evidence exists.

"If such people come under OTR legislation, they will be subject to the appropriate judicial process, so there is no question of being let off the hook."

Mr Hain said the OTR controversy was a good example of why "the process of ending violence is difficult".

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