Donegal republican John Downey is to appeal against a decision to extradite him to the North of Ireland.
Five years ago, a high-profile IRA trial in London of the 67-year-old former PoW on charges of involvement in the 1982 Hyde Park attack collapsed spectacularly after it emerged he had an ‘on the run’ letter.
The letter, issued to some of those under threat of prosecution as a result of the conflict, contained a written assurance from former prime minister Tony Blair’s government, dating from 2007, that he was not actively wanted by the British authorities.
A second British attempt to prosecute Downey over a separate Provisional IRA action saw a judge in Dublin last week order his extradition. However, Justice Aileen Donnelly then granted an appeal to test whether it would be an abuse of process to return him to British jurisdiction.
The court heard that police in Britain had attempted to fabricate evidence using a picture taken from Downey’s house.
Garnet Orange SC, for Downey, told the court there had been “credible attempts” to “fabricate visual identification evidence”. The court was told members of the 26 County Gardai police unlawfully removed pictures of Mr Downey from his home and passed them to the authorities in Britain. These pictures, Mr Orange said, were used to create an image of Mr Downey as a suspect in the Hyde Park attack.
Mr Orange told the court that the “strange reality” was that the alleged evidence against his client had been obtained “by catastrophic failures on part of various Northern Ireland authorities”.
“There is a larger picture that simply cannot be ignored and this is one that must be dealt with in the context of whether public interest is best served in the surrender of Mr Downey.
“For instance, the trial in the UK in 2014 was stopped on the grounds it would be contrary to public interest if it was allowed to proceed. It’s hard to see how the public interest could really be any different to the public interest that the applicant raises.”
Mr Downey remains on continuing bail.
* Saoradh PoW Department has condemned an extended sentence handed down on Friday to republican prisoner, Sean McVeigh, by a non-jury British Diplock Court in connection with an attack by the New IRA. The Lurgan man was sentenced to 25 years with 5 years extended -- subject to parole hearings -- which means that he could serve 17 and half years, the usual equivalent of a 35 year sentence.
“This is an outrageously high sentence and we firmly believe that it carries with it clear intent and that it will be indicative of future sentencing tariffs for Republicans before British courts,” they said. “We wish to offer Sean and his family our full support and our solidarity on this difficult day.”