Northern Ireland

On the Runs: Policing Board 'briefed twice'

Policing Board members were briefed about On The Runs in April 2010
Image caption Policing Board members were briefed about On The Runs in April 2010

Members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board were briefed about On the Runs twice, the BBC has learned.

The first was in 2007 when a specialist PSNI scheme was set up to deal with the issue, the second was in April 2010.

The Policing Board said it has begun a review to establish what information it received.

First Minister Peter Robinson has threatened to resign, claiming he was "kept in the dark" over secret letters sent to republican suspects.

At both meetings of the Policing Board, the BBC has learned that there was no mention of letters to republican suspects telling them that they were not sought by police.

It has emerged that the issue was brought to the Policing Board by former assistant chief constable Peter Sheridan, when Operation Rapid was set up early in 2007.

'No mention of letters'

BBC NI home affairs correspondent Vincent Kearney said: "He outlined the terms of reference, which was that a team would establish whether named individuals were wanted by the PSNI in Northern Ireland, or if they had been asked to arrest them on behalf of another UK police force.

"But, again, there was no mention of letters being sent to those individuals telling them they were not wanted.

"I'm told that's because it was the Northern Ireland Office and the attorney general who decided to send out the letters and decided on the wording of those letters, not the PSNI.

"The police view was that it should brief the board on its role in the process but not about the letters, simply because it wasn't within its remit."

Image caption Denis Bradley said board members had been briefed about the issue

He said there was "clear evidence, on the one hand, that the Policing Board was briefed about the overall scheme, but certainly no evidence that they were briefed about the detail of letters being sent".

At the April 2010 Policing Board meeting, Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris answered a question from the DUP's Tom Buchanan about the issue.

Mr Harris had replied: "There is an ongoing process to resolve those individuals who mostly refer to themselves as 'On the Runs'.

"There are a number of different methods of being identified as being 'On the Run,' mostly through names submitted, either by political parties or the governments to ourselves.

"There is then an investigation which follows into the individual and the crimes that he may have been involved in, and then this is subsequently reported to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) where test for prosecution is met.

'Powers of arrest'

"We have been working through this process over the last number of years and it continues still to be available.

"So, in effect, as we become aware of a name in a particular incident, we carry out a cold case review and an investigation and report that to the PPS to see then if the test for prosecution is met or any other work that may be done.

"The powers of arrest will exist for the original offences and there can also be bench warrants applied to through the courts if needs be, or if it is in relation to offences in respect of breaking out of a prison, the Prison Act also applies in respect of returning people to prison.

"So, there are various different strands in this, it depends pretty much on the incident and the individual, but in each case an investigation is conducted.

"At this moment in time, there are no 'On the Runs' we are aware of residing in Northern Ireland, and if there was information to suggest there are individuals who are wanted for crime living within this jurisdiction, then we would be very anxious to learn of that."

Image caption The DUP's Arlene Foster has challenged Denis Bradley to show her the minutes of the Policing Board

Two other DUP MLAs were also at the meeting.

The former vice-chair of the Policing Board, Denis Bradley, said on Wednesday that board members, including representatives from every party except Sinn Féin, had been briefed about the issue.

"When I was vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the police came in and gave us a detailed briefing of the scheme.

'Aware of scheme'

"The Policing Board, at that stage, was the only institution up and running. The executive wasn't in being, it was suspended and didn't come into being until a couple of years later.

"But the police were up front and open and all of the political parties in Northern Ireland, barring Sinn Féin who weren't on the board at that time, would have been aware of the scheme.

"I remember the briefing and who gave the briefing. I don't think any political party should be talking about a crisis."

The Alliance Party has pointed out that they were not on the Policing Board until 2011.

The DUP's Arlene Foster told the Nolan Show: "I have spoken to two members of the Policing Board at that time and they have said very clearly that they did not receive any detailed briefing from the police.

"So I would challenge Denis Bradley to bring forward any of the minutes from the Policing Board up until 2006 when he left, to show me in the minutes of the Policing Board where there was a briefing in relation to On The Runs."

Former SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood said there was "a muddle" over what the board knew.

He told Wednesday night's BBC Nolan Show: "I've spent a long time today checking with former board staff, board members, with senior police, and there is, to put it frankly, a muddle we have to work out about what the board was, or was not, told.

"The board confirmed that they never knew, and there was no advice ever given, that there was any deal done in dark corridors between Sinn Féin and the British government."

Mr Attwood said he was not aware of any letters.

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