Tony Blair Apologises To Hyde Park Bombing Families For Blunder Which Freed Ira Suspect
Tony Blair today issued a dramatic apology to the families of four British soldiers killed in the Hyde Park bombing after the man accused of the atrocity walked free from court.
The former Prime Ministertook “full responsibility” for the scheme which mistakenly allowed suspected IRA murderer John Downey to dodge prosecution over the 1982 murders.
He received one of 200 “comfort letters” sent to republican fugitivestelling them they would not face trial under a deal struck as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Critics claim the pact was hidden from the public and has allowed killers to escape justice. Angry relatives of those slain say it amounts to an amnesty.
Mr Blair today admitted a “catastrophic error” led to Mr Downey receiving a letterand his prosecution being halted, but insisted the scheme saved the Northern Ireland peace process from collapse and prevented further bloodshed.
Getty ImagesSuspect: But John Downey avoided prosecution after mistakenly being sent a “comfort letter”
The ex-Labour leader also warned the peace was “fragile still”, advising ministers: “Be careful with it.”
Mr Blair was speaking to MPsprobing assurances given to “on-the-run” terror suspects that they would not be prosecuted if they set foot on UK soil.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee launched an inquiry after Mr Downey’s case was thrown out of the Old Bailey last February.
Mr Blair stressed Mr Downey should not have received a letter in 2007, but told the Westminster hearing he accepted “full responsibility” for any flaws in the system which has left families of the Household Cavalry troops killed in Hyde Park claiming they have not seen justice.
“For that I take responsibility and I am sorry for those people and I apologise to those people who have suffered as a result of that,” the ex-PM said.
PAHorror: Horses lie dead after an IRA bomb exploded as the Household Cavalry was passing in Hyde Park
“But I am not going to apologise for sending those letters to those who should have received those letters because without having done that we would not have a Northern Ireland peace process.”
In angry exchanges with Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley, Mr Blair stormed: “When you’re questioning me as the decision maker, you sit in the decision making seat for a moment.”
During his 135-minute Westminster grilling, the former Labour leader warned the peace processcould have collapsed without a deal, claiming: “It very nearly sank the entire agreement.”
He said the on-the-runs letters scheme helped “stop further death and destruction and bloodshed” – and was key to republicans accepting the Police Service of Northern Ireland,which was “absolutely critical” to maintaining peace.
He added: “We almost lost the thing. I understand the anxiety about this, I really do, but you have got to understand what I was trying to achieve.”
PADeal or no deal: Former Prime Minister Tony Blair at the parliamentary inquiry at the House of Commons
He denied the scheme was “wrong, unlawful or secret”, saying: “It wasn’t that we decided not to tell people, but it just wasn’t the focus.”
Shadow Northern Ireland SecretaryIvan Lewis said later: “Tony Blair was right to apologise for the impact of the catastrophic error in the Downey case on the loved ones of the Hyde Park victims.
“Equally, he was right to remind people that the scheme was not an amnesty and was introduced at a very difficult stage in a complex peace process.
“Tony Blair deserves tremendous personal credit for a peace process which ended decades of violence and has been lauded around the world.