Perhaps the greatest atrocity carried out by the PIRA in England was the joint bombing of Regents and Hyde Parks. The grotesque nature of the attacks were played out on televisions screens and newspaper front pages across the world. Who could not have been touched, as they read of the terrible suffering that a bomb, with over 30 pounds of nails packed around it, inflicted on human and horse?
The bloodied carcasses of horses spewn on London’s streets and mixed with the dead of the Queen’s Guard still haunts many today. Around an hour later, in Regents Park, the band of the Royal Green Jackets, played to a crowd of 120 spectators. As the music of Oliver entertained the crowd, a bomb exploded under the bandstand, killing and injuring both musicians and bystanders. The only redeeming factor of the day was the bravery of injured and the remarkable recovery of Sefton the horse. Two decades later the suffering and loss would be compounded, by the government who, in all effect, protected the perpetrators.
On Tony Blair’s last day as prime minister, 27th June 2007, the structure was put in place, which would see the main suspect in the Hyde Park Bombing issued a letter of comfort. This would have a dramatic effect on the rule of law. Austen Morgan states that this has been “interrupted significantly by the peace process. ”
There had been whispers and theories for a decade. Had a secret deal been done between the British Government and the IRA, which would see mass murders forgo due process and, indeed, be free, under government protection, despite evidence that would prove them guilty? The answer was to come on 21st February 2014, when a British court ruled that an abuse of process had taken place and that the trail of the lead suspect could not continue.
So what was the driving force behind such appalling decisions being taken? Johnathan Powell would say that there was a prolonged threat of a return to violence by republicans when he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee ” At any stage you could have tipped this back into war. ” Blair also stated “I did believe there was a chance of it (the peace process) collapsing. ” But this is contradicted by the likes of Tim Dalton, who stated that Gerry Adams told him that the PIRA “would not go back to violence” as “their own community would not allow them. ” This was also backed up by John Hume who briefed the UDA in the Maze Prison to that effect. It is hard to believe that the Irish Government were being brief that the PIRA were unable to return to an armed campaign and the British Government were not. Even UDA prisoners were being made aware of this “strategic weakness” something which Austen Morgan states “the UK failed to use tactically. ”
Sir Quinton Thomas was one of the main architects of the Belfast Agreement (1998). After his retirement and knighthood, he was tasked with being an advisor to the NIO on the subject of “outstanding criminal investigations” . In January 2001, he finalised 77-page report, Clean Sheets: dealing with outstanding criminal cases was sent to the NIO. Quinton was to form the opinion that any criminal cases, which might arrive out of historical offences, that might have been committed by Security Force members would not be covered by the amnesty he proposing. He would state “Despite the difficulties, the better course is to exclude the security forces from any amnesty scheme. ” This was “because the greater public (and British) interest ” lay in doing so. Austen Morgan observes that this decision “was to play later into the hands of republicans.” Quinton put forward a number of options but astutely, he said that Option 3, an “automatic amnesty” “will minimise the contamination of the system of justice.” But this contamination had already begun and the secret deals between corrupt government and a murderous mob will resonate for generations. By 2005, the government would try and put in place a proviso that would include all participants in that had taken part in the Northern Ireland conflict but this scuppered by republicans. During the early 2000s, there were intensive talks between the British Government and republicans, interestingly Northern Ireland’s future Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory acted on behalf of a number of those, who were of interest.
In January 2014, written evidence was produced in the Downey case. It covered Kevin McGinty’s appraisal of Sir Alasdair Fraser’s role. He would state that there was a reluctance on Sir Alister’s behalf to implement the scheme. This was because of the “actual and perceived impartiality” was of the most “crucial importance” for the “maintenance of public confidence”. Confidence could be damaged due to fact that the “administrative scheme would only benefit one side of the community.” The very structure of the government proposal and its implementation was profoundly flawed, in that it administered justice or the lack of it on the grounds of political/religious affiliation. Since the 15th Century, Iustitia, Justitia, has been depicted blindfolded and holding both scales and sword. Under the leadership, first of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Cameron she was blinded, her scale was tipped and sword broken.
This partisan use of the judicial system was carried out under the radar of most observers. The reason being that process could be challenged in the courts if the general public became aware of the situation. Lord Goldsmith told John Reid that if the minister conceded to Sinn Fein’s demands it could cause a “constitutional crisis”. Lord Williams would later write to the government stating that “It would…be an unlawful fettering” of his “discretion” and that the government’s policy “would amount to an amnesty”, which was illegal without a parliamentary decision . Lord Williams would also tell Peter Mandelson that he was “seriously concerned that the exercise” which “is being undertaken has the capacity of severely undermining the confidence in the criminal justice system.” He would then continue “I am not persuaded that some unquantifiable benefit to the peace process can be a proper basis for a decision based on the public interest. ” The concerns put forward by senior figures in the judiciary, both in Great Britain and Northern Ireland did not dissuade New Labour from continuing to put its pernicious and partisan plan into action. It is to the credit of a number of legal figures that an unfettered form of shadowy amnesty is not in place.
By early 2002, the government had put a form of amnesty together in the form a consultation. This would have an independent commissioner grant immunity to those Sinn Fein put forward. This scheme was to exclude all but republicans. William Fittall was to act as a sounding board for the views of David Trimble. He would state, that while Trimble would have to oppose the bill, he (Trimble) might not endure political impairment if the scheme involved some form of “determination of guilt” and “subsequent licencing arrangement”. Later in March of that year, Trimble wrote to Blair setting out his stall on the matter. The subterfuge continued until press reports in November brought the policy to the public’s attention. Trimble then disengaged with the process.
While the widespread violence of the past was to be curtailed by the PIRA leadership, it still continued criminal activity on a grandiose scale. While Nelson’s eye was being applied to those who were suspects in over 300 hundred murders, robbery, extortion, and fuel laundering were lining the PIRA’s coffers. Most notably of these: The Norther Bank robbery, which was undertaken by the PIRA’s Director of Intelligence. By September 2005, the PIRA had supposedly decommissioned its full military arsenal. This was contradicted by Tony Blair, who when giving evidence to NIAC, in January 2015, stated that December 2006 was a critical moment, in which, “it was going to go down. ” How it would have gone down, given that this was over a year after PIRA decommission, is not alluded to. But the inference is of a return to violence. There are two positions here, one is that intel was not filtering to the government or that the PIRA, despite all we are being told, still constitutes a threat to the United Kingdom. Either way, negotiating with a terrorist threat and dilution of the justice system and has weakened the constitutional integrity of the British State.
Austen Morgan’s work does a great service to the people of the United Kingdom. It analyses a part of history that was meant to stay hidden from the public and does so in great detail. His forensic mind untangles the web spun by both terrorist and nameless mandarins in what must be one of the British Government most shameful episodes.
Tony Blair and the IRA: The ‘On The Runs’ Scandal by Austen Morgan is available in paperback and Kindle editions from The Belfast Press Limited.
It is available in both Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.