Northern Ireland news

Hyde Park bomb suspect John Downey arrested in Co Donegal for UDR soldiers' 1972 murder

John Downey, the man suspected of the Hyde Park bombing, has been arrested in Co Donegal for the 1972 murder of two UDR soldiers

HYDE Park bombing suspect John Downey has been arrested in Co Donegal for the 1972 murder of two UDR soldiers.

The 66-year-old from Donegal has previously been named as a suspect in the murders of Lance Corporal Alfred Johnston and Private James Eames in Enniskillen 46 years ago. They were killed when an IRA bomb exploded in a car they were checking at the Cherrymount roundabout.

The arrest on Monday night was made by gardaí in a joint operation with the PSNI.

A Public Prosecution Service spokesman said: “Following careful consideration of all available evidence, a decision has been taken to prosecute one person for the offence of murder and for aiding and abetting the causing of an explosion.

“Extradition proceedings were initiated in the High Court in Dublin on Monday November 5 to seek the extradition of one man from the Republic of Ireland for trial in Northern Ireland.

“One man was subsequently arrested in Co Donegal this evening and is due to appear in court in Dublin tomorrow.”

Downey, who was controversially cleared of involvement in the Hyde Park bombings in London after he produced a “letter of comfort” given to him by the British government, is also being held on suspicion of aiding and abetting an explosion.

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A PSNI spokesman said the suspect is due to appear at the High Court in Dublin on Tuesday afternoon.

In 2014 it emerged that the PPS was re-examining the double murder after the Hyde Park judgment revealed that the PSNI had uncovered evidence connecting Downey to the earlier attack in Northern Ireland.

A Historical Enquiries Team report discovered that fingerprints on a piece of adhesive tape recovered from a battery pack used in the bomb matched Downey’s fingerprints from a sample supplied by gardaí. The tape went missing and prosecutors decided in 1985 not to seek his extradition. It was rediscovered in 2008 by the PSNI. The PSNI alerted the Historical Enquiries Team which planned to issue a fresh alert for his arrest when they discovered he had been issued with the “letter of comfort”.

Downey's name had been put on a list by Sinn Féin as part of the “on-the-runs” administrative scheme.

A 2010 review deemed there was insufficient evidence to start criminal proceedings.

Downey was arrested in 2013 at Gatwick airport and charged with the Hyde Park bombings in which four soldiers died. Downey’s case was thrown out due to his “letter of assurance”, leading to a public outcry. The collapse caused a political storm which threatened to bring down the Stormont institutions.

The scene of the Hyde Park bombing

The subsequent Hallett Review concluded that the scheme was not an amnesty, with the then secretary of state, Theresa Villiers, saying people who received “letters of comfort” should no longer place any reliance on them.

In an interview after the collapse of the Hyde Park case, Downey said he was a committed supporter of the peace process.

A PPS spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we have received a file from PSNI in relation to the murders of Alfred Johnston and James Eames.

“As this file is under consideration, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

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