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53 royal pardons issued in decade leading up to Good Friday Agreement

A total of 53 royal pardons were granted in the decade between 1987 and 1997

ROYAL pardons were granted to at least 53 people in Northern Ireland in the decade leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.

The figures, released in response to a Freedom of Information request seen by The Irish News, reveal that the Royal Prerogative was issued in 53 cases in the period from 1987 to 1997, although government officials say there could be more.

In May 2014, the then Secretary of State Theresa Villiers told the House of Commons that royal pardons were granted on 365 occasions between 1979 and 2002.

However, Ms Villiers also told MPs that it was not possible to provide figures for the years between 1987 and 1997 as the records could not be found.

The Nothern Ireland Office (NIO) said in 2014 that the "vast majority" cases were not linked to paramilitaries and included offences including assault, burglary, theft and non-payment of national insurance contributions.

In response to the recent FOI request, the NIO said: "The department has carried out further searches of files and has found a number of documents which provide the names of individuals who were granted the Royal Prerogative of Mercy between 1987 and 1997.

"An extensive search of our records in 2014 identified 53 cases where individuals were, or may have been, granted the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. However, please note that these may not be the complete records for that period."

The names of the individuals given pardons, and the nature of the offences, are not disclosed in the FOI response.

The issue of royal pardons was at the centre of a political row in 2014 following the collapse of the trial of John Downey, who was accused of killing four British soldiers in a bombing in Hyde Park in London in 1982.

Downey's defence team argued that the trial should not go ahead because he had been sent a letter giving assurances he was no longer wanted by any police force in the UK.

Correspondence had been sent to more than 180 republicans informing them that they were not being sought in relation to any investigation.

Then Chief Constable Matt Baggott apologised for the letter addressed to Downey, which he said had been sent in error.

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