Well-known loyalist Willie Frazer attempted to personally “arrest” a republican he alleged was ‘on the run’ from a conflict-related prosecution this week. The victims’ campaigner tried moved towards mourners at a funeral in County Down, but was blocked by a line of PSNI police.
Mr Frazer said he believed the man was among 187 republicans who received “letters of comfort”, telling them they were not wanted in connection with any crimes.
“When I asked police and named him they said they weren’t aware of him being wanted for any crime,” he said. “I said if they didn’t want to arrest him then I would make a citizen’s arrest, but they wouldn’t let me up the road.”
Mr Frazer also complained about the number of police at the funeral. “I have been to large funerals before but I have never seen the number of police that were there yesterday,” he said.
Meanwhile, former PSNI chief Hugh Orde has denied that he came under pressure to release republican suspects following claims by retired senior RUC detective Norman Baxter of political “interference” in prosecutions.
Last week Baxter, notorious among republicans for engaging in ‘political policing’, ironically accused British officials in London of attempting to pervert the course of justice by asking for the release of republicans Vincent McAnespie and Gerry McGeough after their arrest in March 2007 for IRA actions in 1981. The request, Mr Baxter told a Westminster parliamentary committee, was prompted by a phone call by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
But Orde refuted the claims, and said that calls from Downing Street officials conveying complaints made by senior representatives from both sides of the political divide were frequent but “at no time did No 10 ever try to influence my decision making”.
He added that he would not have been surprised if Mr Adams had rung Downing Street to complain.
“It was not unusual for politicians of all sides to complain about what the police service was doing, both loyalist and republican,” he said.
A spate of historical cases have been reopened in recent weeks amid the controversy over the letter given to OTRs. Most notably, County Monaghan republican Seamus Daly was this week charged in Armagh with involvement in the 1998 Omagh bombing. The bombing, directed at the commercial centre of the Tyrone market town, took one of the worst tolls in the history of the conflict when two telephoned warnings failed to clear the area around the bomb.
There have previously been two failed prosecutions against alleged members of the ‘Real IRA’ unit involved, despite their vehicle being tracked and mobile phones monitored as the attack was allowed to proceed.
A statement in 2008 by the former PSNI chief Hugh Orde indicated that no further prosecutions were likely in the case. One man, Colm Murphy, was previously tried, convicted, and then released after it was revealed that the Gardai forged interview notes used in the case. Mr Murphy’s nephew, Sean Hoey, was also tried and found not guilty.
FLORIDA CASE REOPENED
The PSNI has also said they are to reinvestigate controversial claims that the Provisional IRA brought guns from the US into Ireland in the late 1990s. It follows a BBC Spotlight programme that alleged a senior member of Sinn Fein was involved in a gun-running operation from Florida.
It was alleged in the programme that Sean ‘Spike’ Murray, now a senior Sinn Fein strategist, was involved in smuggling guns before and after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Mr Murray has denied the allegations.
Meanwhile, the sister of Sinn Fein Assembly member Fra McCann has been arrested in connection with the abduction of informer Jean McConville in December 1972. Geraldine Rogan was arrested at her west Belfast home before being released without charge. The PSNI said it is preparing a report for Crown prosecutors. Hers was the third such arrest in the case.