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Hugh Orde leaves OTR blame at the feet of Fermanagh man Norman Baxter

Published: 9 Apr 2014 17:57

THE former Chief Constable of the PSNI, Sir Hugh Orde says the failings in the administrative process which allowed convicted IRA man, John Downey to walk free from an Old Bailey trial lie at the feet of Fermanagh man, Norman Baxter.

Norman Baxter.

Giving evidence yesterday (Wednesday) to the Nothern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) during its latest public evidence session into the On The Runs scheme, Sir Orde said Mr Baxter, a former Detective Chief Superintendent should have provided information relating to Mr Downey being wanted by the Metropolitan police in connection with the Hyde Park Bombing.

“The DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) had a right to know that information,” Sir Orde told the Committee.

Last week Mr Baxter gave evidence in relation to the role he played in what was known as “Operation Rapid”.

Under the scheme, Mr Baxter investigated and reported to his superior, former Acting Chief Constable Peter Sheridan, as to whether individals, classed as the ‘On The Runs’ were still wanted by the PSNI.

In Mr Downey’s case, a letter was eventually sent informing him he was not wanted by any police service in the UK.

Last week Mr Baxter told the Committee it was his belief that he would have been perverting the course of justice had he informed ACC Sheridan that Mr Downey was still wanted in connection with Hyde Park Bombing.

He told the NIAC he believe the letter he had sent to ACC Sheridan had been “amended” by the NIO stating that he was not wanted by any police service.

But yesterday Sir Orde was clear in who he felt was to blame for the “basic failure”.

He said that while the terms of reference for Mr Baxter’s role in Operation Rapid were “fairly precise”, they were not “prescriptive”.

“He did the checks and he knew he was wanted by the Met. He did not share that information with ACC Sheridan -- that was the basic failure. Had he included that, I’m confident ACC Sheridan would have shared that with the prosecuting authorities -- that’s where the system failed -- that’s where the issue didn’t really come together. The DPP had a right to know that information.

"It is beyond my understanding how communicating between professinal police offiers is perverting the course of justice,” he added.

Sir Orde also refuted claims made by Mr Baxter that a call had been made from his office informing Mr Baxter he was to release Gerry McGeough from police questioning -- the man who was eventually found guilty of attempting to murder DUP councillor Sammy Brush.

“That never ever happened in my term of office,” he said, adding that at no time did anyone ever try to “influence my operational decision making”.

“Had that happened I would have made it publically known,” he said.

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