Friday, March 7, 2014

John Downey, "On the Run Letters" and the Relationship to the Lockerbie case

1.    There has been considerable and on-going controversy concerning the collapse of the trial of Mr John Downey (arrested May 2013)  who was suspected of involvement in the 1982 Hyde Park bombings.   The Judge brought proceedings to a halt in January 2014 when Mr Downey's Solicitor Gareth Peirce produced a letter of reassurance issued by the Northern Ireland Police Service in 2007 informing him that the Police did not propose to proceed against him for any Crime.
2.       This letter was one of 183 letters known as "On the Run" letters issued to suspected IRA members (it is not known if they were also issued to INLA members)  who were described as being "On the Run" (apparently a polite euphemism for being resident in the Irish Republic - indeed how do you correspond with somebody "on the run"?  A speaker on BBC4's Law in Action programme described these as "disguised amnesty" letters.

3.        The letters arose from a perceived anomaly in the Good Friday agreement in which convicted terrorists on both sides of the sectarian divide had been released.  Had these persons described as "On the Run" been convicted prior to the approval of the Good Friday agreement they too would have been released.    While the Blair Government was unable to carry a general amnesty bill through parliament the "On the Run" letters were used instead.

4.       In setting up a judicial inquiry Prime Minister Cameron described Mr Downey's letter as "a mistake" and declared the object of the inquiry is to ascertain if there were any similar "mistakes".  Apparently the Northern Ireland Police Service were unaware that the Metropolitan Police had applied for a warrant for Mr Downey's arrest!   However as should be blindingly obvious these letters served two purposes.  If an applicant received such a letter he would be in the clear.   However if the applicant did not receive a letter then he or she would be forewarned that it would be unsafe to travel to the UK or a jurisdiction from which they could be extradited.  Perhaps this was the intention.

5.      Mr Downey was arrested at Gatwick apparently while transferring to another plane.  It emerged he had previously travelled to Canada and had made several trips to Ulster.

6.      This blog is not about "The Troubles" but primarily the Lockerbie bombing.    It is the author's view that the "Libyan solution" to Lockerbie did not arise from real evidence but that evidence was created to implicate the two Libyan suspects (notably the claim the primary suitcase was introduced at Malta not Heathrow and the faking of key exhibits.)  The motivation of the British Government in general and MI5 in particular arose from the Libyans having supplied prodigious quantities of weaponry to the PIRA, a discovery only made from the interception of the trawler The Eksund by French customs in November 1987 en route to the Irish Republic.

7.       The "On the Run" letters demonstrates the quite remarkable lengths the British Government went to in order to make and sustain the Good Friday agreement.   In comments made to Radio 4's World at One former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain staunchly defended the letters and the policies of the Blair Government arguing that the Rule of Law did not apply in the Northern Ireland situation as it did in England, Scotland and Wales.   He also alluded to (without going into specifics) extraordinary measures taken by previous British Prime Ministers.  While the Lockerbie indictment supposedly came about as a result of a Criminal investigation and a Judicial process the involvement of the Security Services, MI5 and the CIA is almost entirely out of the public domain.  The Indictment was the pretext for imposing UN Sanctions on Libya, which was in the author's view the primary purpose of the Indictment.  Mr Megrahi's eventual (and freakish) conviction was just gravy.  (The word "Lockerbie" does not feature in the index of Mr Hain's memoirs.)

8.   One the four demands made of Libya following the imposition of UN sanctions was that Libya "cease all support and aid to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and provide the British authorities with all available information regarding that relation".  (Which they did.)  (see the section "Libya and Great Britain - the Enemy Within, the Enemy Without" in part III of this blog "Lockerbie - Criminal Justice or War by Other Means?"  and  "Scotbom - Evidence and the Lockerbie Case."

8.    Like the 9/11 attacks the creation of the "Libyan solution" to Lockerbie case it not widely recognized as a milestone in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.  It should be.

9.   (An earlier post on this blog "The (not so) Secret Rulers of the World" (Aug 2009)  notes the curious affair of former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson's trip to Syria in December 2000 during the recess of the Camp Zeist trial.)

Gareth Peirce and Allen Feraday

10.       Mr Downey's Solicitor Gareth Peirce had put her name to a lengthy polemic on the Lockerbie case  "Guilty? Judge for Yourself"  published in the Independent on Sunday of the 20th September 2009.   Ms Peirce's interest in the Lockerbie case was not stated but she had recently appeared at a public meeting with Dr Swire and the journalist John Ashton one or both of whom may have made some contribution to the lengthy article.

11.   While the article purported to present the facts in order to let the reader come to their own conclusion the article contained a number of dubious assertions and claims that did not stand up to scrutiny.   It also contained two wild allegations for which there was not a shred of evidence notably that (para.6) "The suitcase belonging to Major McKee (a CIA operative flying back to the US to report on his concern that the couriering of drugs was being officially condoned as a way to entrap users and dealers in the US)"  and "A second suitcase, opened by a Scottish farmer contained packets of white powder which a local police officer told him was undoubtedly heroin".   

12.       The best part of the article was in discussing the role of RARDE in the case with which she had a great deal of personal experience particularly in relation to one of the many miscarriage of justices cases related to Irish terrorism, the case of the Maguire family and the related case of the Guildford Four.   The article noted that central to the overturning of these verdicts and other notable cases was the discrediting of the evidence of forensic scientists.   Ms Peirce rightly pointed at para.31 in relation to the work of Dr Thomas Hayes of RARDE that "without Hayes's findings,  the Lockerbie prosecution would have been impossible."

13.   In a side-bar to the article describing "Key characters in the Lockerbie story"  Hayes' colleague and successor Allen Feraday is described as follows "The forensic scientist is credited with discovering the fragment of circuit board allegedly used in the bomb.  The former head of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment was an expert witness in a number of terrorism trials were where convictions were overturned.   Lord Justice Taylor later said Feraday should not present himself as an electronics expert".

14.     Actually it was Dr Hayes who was officially credited with discovering the fragment on the 12th May 1989 although in evidence at Camp Zeist Feraday gave evidence that he had witnesses the removal of the fragment of circuit board together with fragments of a Toshiba radio-cassette owner's manual from a fragment of Slalom shirt.    As my article "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil"  (posted November 2013) demonstrates Dr Hayes note of that discovery could not legimately have been written before the 22nd May 1989 and may have been written much later.   There was no credible evidence that the fragment of circuit board and the fragments of the owner's manual was discovered in the circumstances claimed.

15.      The article did not mention Feraday's evidence at the Gibraltar inquest into the deaths of the three unarmed IRA terrorists shot dead in the "Death on the Rock"  case.   Feraday gave evidence that the terrorists could have detonated their bomb by a remote control device and therefore had to be incapacitated (i.e.killed) therefore exculpating the authorities.

16.     Para.38 of Ms Peirce's article notes that Mr Feraday has no relevant academic qualifications only a higher national certificate in physics and electronics.   Dr Michael Scott, "whose evidence has been preferred in appeals to that of Feraday"  was quoted that "the British government employed hundreds of people who were extraordinarily well qualified in the areas of radio communication and electronics.   Alan Feraday is not qualified yet they use him.  I have to ask the question why."

17.    The paragraph continued with a reference to the case of Danny McNamee who was convicted in 1987 of involvement in the Hyde Park bombing on the basis that his fingerprints were found on two pieces of circuit board and (supposedly) on a battery associated with the atrocity.   McNamee, an electronics expert, claimed that he may have handled the circuit boards innocently in the course of previous employment.    The paragraph continued that "Feraday, like his US counterpart Thurman, has been banned from future appearances as an expert witness, but he had already provided the key evidence in a roll-call of convictions of the innocent.   A note of a pre-trial conference with counsel prosecuting Danny McNamee (wrongly convicted of involvement in a bombing in Hyde Park) provides a typical instance: "F" (Feraday) prepared to say it (a circuit board) purely for bombing purposes, no innocent purposes".

18.     Mr McNamee's conviction was quashed in 1998.   Modestly Ms Peirce fails to note in the article that she was his Solicitor.

18.     Allen Feraday would have been one of the main witnesses at the trial of John Downey if the case had gone ahead.  Mr Downey's "On the Run"  is presented in the official version of events as having been issued by mistake a conclusion unchallenged by the recent inquiry by the House of Commons Northern Ireland Select Committee.   Happily for  the authorities' point of view it also prevented Allen Feraday being exposed to cross-examination by a QC instructed by a Solicitor well-informed as to Mr Feraday's  track record.  It had the potential to open a whole can of worms  particularly in relation to "Death on the Rock" and Lockerbie.



Patrick Haseldine said...


The WikiSpooks biography of Alan Feraday first appeared in March 2013 (

John Downey was arrested on 19 May 2013 and charged with the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing in London in what the WS biography describes as "an obvious attempt by the establishment to rehabilitate Alan Feraday’s fatally damaged reputation."

The prosecution must have hoped they could get away with using Feraday as their chief ‘expert witness’ in securing Downey’s conviction (2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours: Sir Alan Feraday OBE).

But the prosecution didn’t reckon with Gareth Peirce as John Downey’s defence lawyer. Nor did they anticipate the WS biography’s focus on Lord Chief Justice Taylor’s ban on Feraday as an ‘expert witness’.

The trial was clearly not going too well when, on 4 February 2014, Feraday’s daughter Caroline and her media lawyer husband Mark Lewis "launched an unprovoked attack on former diplomat Patrick Haseldine and the editor of The Ecologist Oliver Tickell on Twitter by referring to an article published in the then current issue of Private Eye magazine" (see

Within a few weeks the prosecution had thrown in the towel and allowed Downey’s comfort letter to collapse the trial (see Judgment of 21 February 2014


Patrick Haseldine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
baz said...

Perhaps as someone who had dealt with the carnage of IRA bombings
Sir Alan may have been sympathetic to punishing the party that had supplied the IRA with weapons and explosives Libya and to the concept of decommissioning IRA weaponry.

Patrick Haseldine said...

Poor 'Sir Alan' will just have to make do with his "Odious Bomb Expert" award by Mrs Thatcher, now that the Downey case has collapsed!