Northern Ireland

On The Runs: Watchdog report on scheme was 'unfair'

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Media captionFormer Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan attended a House of Commons committee

A watchdog investigation into how police handled the controversial On The Runs (OTRs) scheme was unfair and unbalanced, MPs have been told.

Peter Sheridan claimed the report by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) had been rushed through with "hindsight bias".

Mr Sheridan, an ex-assistant chief constable, was giving evidence to MPs investigating On The Runs letters.

He described the scheme as "extraordinary".

The letters scheme was made public after the collapse of a case against Donegal man John Downey in February, over the 1982 Hyde Park bombing.

Mr Downey was wrongly told in a letter he was not wanted by any UK police force. However, he was still being sought by the Met.

The police ombudsman examined the role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the OTR scheme, and in particular officers' handling of Mr Downey's case.

However, Mr Sheridan, told the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee at Westminster, that he would think twice before engaging with the ombudsman, or encouraging other former officers to co-operate with his office again.

He said: "I say this with considerable regret.

"I have always been a champion of the role of Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland, even to the extent of encouraging ex-officers to co-operate with PONI investigations.

"But in this case my own confidence has been knocked.

"I approached requests for interviews from PONI in a very open and willing way but my experience has meant I am likely to approach any such requests differently in the future."

Image caption The collapse of Donegal man John Downey's trial earlier this year sparked the On the Runs crisis

The committee is looking at how more than 200 people were told they were not wanted for paramilitary crimes committed before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

On The Runs are those suspected of, but not convicted of, paramilitary offences.

In February, a judge dismissed Mr Downey's case when it emerged he had the letter from government officials mistakenly telling him he was not wanted by any UK police force.

It emerged during the case that several hundred similar letters had been issued.

Mr Sheridan, who retired from the PSNI in 2008, also told MPs he had had been uncomfortable briefing senior Sinn Féin members including Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly about republican suspects whose status had changed from wanted to not wanted.

He said: "It was an extraordinary thing that we were being asked to do and none of us were comfortable with it."