PSNI ‘may be at fault’ for On The Runs error, Villiers says

Gareth O’Connor’s father says he has no doubt Provisional IRA murdered his son

The PSNI appears to be at fault for the error which led to the suspension of an inquest into the 2003 alleged murder by the IRA of Armagh man Gareth O'Connor, the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers has told the House of Commons.

The inquiry by a British judge last year into the so-called On The Runs Scheme in the wake of the collapse of the trial of John Downey on charges of killing four British Army soldiers in the Hyde Park bombing in 1982 found two other cases where mistakes had been made, including the killing of Mr O'Connor.

In one internal letter, a PSNI detective chief inspector told his superior, Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter that there was "insufficient evidence" to prosecute a man for terrorist offences allegedly committed in the 1970s, but he was wanted for the O'Connor killing.

A subsequent letter from Mr Baxter to PSNI Assistant Chief Constable, Peter Sheridan said that was not a basis for seeking the individual's arrest for offences committed prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. In a letter to the Northern Ireland Office, Mr Sheridan then said that the man was "currently not wanted".


“The Hallett report indicates that the error may well have originated within the PSNI, but we should not rush to judgment on that,” Ms Villiers told MPs on Tuesday during an urgent question in the House of Commons, though she added that the scheme “was not designed to guard against errors”.

Demands rejected

However, she rejected demands for new legislation to ensure that none of those who received On The Run letters can use them to block prosecutions, saying that she had already made it clear that they were valueless if prosecutors decide to act now.

Earlier, DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley pushed for legislation "to annul the value of all these letters" so that "meat (was put) on the bones" of the declarations made in the wake of Hallett's publication by Ms Villiers.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly should be investigated for seeking the letters on behalf of some of the people on the list, said Mr Paisley, who also demanded to know the compensation that will be paid to the O'Connor family.

Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman Ivan Lewis said the OTR letters were "never designed" to cover alleged offences committed after the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

Not questioned

Meanwhile, Paul Dougan, solicitor for the O'Connor family, said he understood that the suspect mentioned to in this latest OTR controversy has never been questioned about the murder of Gareth O'Connor. "I hope that will now happen," he said.

Mr Dougan also queried why, when it was known in July that the OTR letter was issued in error, that this information was only brought to the attention of the coroner John Leckey last Friday.

Mr O’Connor’s father Mark said he wanted the PSNI to re-examine the case and he wanted the Police Ombudsman to investigate how the PSNI appeared to have made the error in allowing the suspect in his son’s 2003 murder to receive the OTR letter.

Fully convinced

He remained in no doubt that the Provisional IRA was responsible for the abduction of his son in south Armagh, and of his subsequent murder and disappearance.

“I was 100 per cent convinced at the start that it was the Provisional IRA that murdered Gareth and I am still 100 per cent convinced it was the Provisional IRA,” he said, notwithstanding that the organisation denied involvement.

Outlining why he was convinced Mr O’Connor said; “The people who were threatening him before he disappeared were Provisional IRA men; the area where he disappeared was a Provisional IRA area; the way in which it was done was Provisional IRA; and whoever did it, did it before.”

The PSNI said “inquiries were continuing” into Mr O’Connor’s murder.