Sinn Fein campaigned for on-the-runs scheme

Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein pushed to introduce the on-the-runs scheme
Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein pushed to introduce the on-the-runs scheme

The on-the-runs (OTR) scheme was set up by Tony Blair's British government in 2000 in response to lobbying from Sinn Fein, according to reports.

The republican party had stressed its importance in shoring-up republican support for the peace process. Under the terms of the scheme names of individuals were passed to the Government, the majority through Sinn Fein.

The names were then handed to police and prosecutors to assess their status. A report on each individual, some of whom were Sinn Fein members, was sent back to the Government and, if they were declared as not being wanted, a letter of assurance was then issued to the individuals.

Last February, Old Bailey trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney found that John Downey's arrest at Gatwick Airport in 2013, when he had been sent a letter in 2007 stating he was free to return to the UK, represented an abuse of process - not that the letter conferred immunity from prosecution.

Downey, 63, has denied involvement in the 1982 Hyde Park bomb attack.

The PSNI was heavily criticised in the wake of the judgement as an evidence report it compiled on Downey, which the Government used to determine whether to issue the letter, had not stated he was being sought by the Metropolitan Police.

The select committee report said officers involved had acted in good faith.

The report expressed particular concern that around six years after it was established the administrative scheme was accelerated, with the Government asking the PSNI to process a greater volume of applications. The move came after the Government's attempt to legislate for an amnesty for all on-the-run fugitives was dropped.

Members felt the request for an intensified PSNI processing operation - codenamed Operation Rapid - might have led to mistakes, with checks and balances falling by the wayside.

"We are concerned that, especially during the initial phase of Operation Rapid, where the speed of review was accelerated considerably and the (evidential) threshold may have been mistakenly set too high, that the operation of the scheme had crossed the line from being an extraordinary method of carrying out normal policing work into an unjustifiably reckless exercise of executive authority," said the report.

The PSNI is currently reviewing the evidence in all 228 applicants made under the scheme to explore whether other errors have been made.