Man accused of murdering two British soldiers in Northern Ireland in 1972 denied bail

Judge considers 67-year-old John Downey a flight risk

Aoife Moore
Saturday 12 October 2019 16:52
Downey arriving at Omagh Magistrates’ Court on Saturday
Downey arriving at Omagh Magistrates’ Court on Saturday

A man being prosecuted for the murder of two soldiers in Northern Ireland has been refused bail.

John Downey, accused of the murders of two Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers in August 1972 and a further explosives charge, was extradited to the UK after being arrested in the Republic of Ireland.

Lance Corporal Alfred Johnston – a father of four – and father-of-three Private James Eames died when a device exploded in a car they were checking on the Irvinestown Road, Cherrymount, Enniskillen.

Downey handed himself in to Letterkenny Garda Station on Friday after he lost an appeal to challenge his extradition in July this year.

The 67-year-old appeared at Omagh Magistrates’ Court on Saturday morning in front of District Judge Michael Ranaghan. Dressed in a white shirt and blue jumper, Downey appeared in the dock flanked by a police officer, while his family sat in court and gestured to him.

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell told the court: “Police object to bail for the defendant on the grounds that he is a flight risk.

“The defendant did not consent to be extradited and appealed to the High Court in Dublin.”

Mr Caldwell went on to list the number of hearings Downey had gone through to fight extradition in the Republic of Ireland, before stating: “In light of all of this, police are of the view the defendant doesn’t want to face trial in Northern Ireland.”

Samuel Magee QC, for the prosecution, said Brexit could also pose a challenge in the case.

He told the court: “Mr Downey has challenged extradition all the way.

“In police custody last night we got the defendant’s passport which he brought with him, however he could easily leave and go to the Republic and with all the uncertainty around Brexit, that could frustrate the justice process.”

But Downey’s barrister Michael Duffy said the accused is not a flight risk as he has nowhere else to go.

He told the court: “First of all, this is a 67-year-old man, he’s married with children, there are no issues in relation to this man not complying with all conditions.

“There’s nowhere this man can go, his family are grounded where he lives, and has lived all his married life, he is a man of ill health with chronic conditions, and that should be taken into consideration.

“There is no evidence the accused has committed any actual act in the 47 years since the alleged crime.”

Mr Duffy added that by appealing against his extradition, Downey was justifiably engaging with the legal process.

Mr Ranaghan agreed, adding: “Human rights are there for a reason.”

Mr Duffy concluded any trial would be a lengthy and complicated one, adding it would be an “affront to justice” not to grant bail.

Mr Ranaghan took a recess in his chamber for several minutes before making his decision, and then said: “This is far from straightforward.

“There are a number of matters that point toward granting bail, I have considered Mr Downey’s age and health, and the strength of the evidence.

“This will be a long and protracted matter with numerous pre-trial issues.

“On the other side of the coin, the charge couldn’t be more grave.

“I am conducting a risk assessment here in the circumstances, and I find he is a flight risk, and so I do refuse bail.”

He told Downey he has the right to appeal against that decision.

A large crowd had gathered outside the town centre court house in support of Downey, including Sinn Fein MP for the area Orfhlaith Begley and a number of former and current Sinn Fein representatives, including ex-MP Pat Doherty.

After the hearing, Downey was transferred from the court to a waiting police van.

Crowds shouted support for the accused, before a scuffle ensued between them and police officers after PSNI had attempted to move supporters and the press from the road.

Downey was arrested at his home in Donegal in October last year under a European Arrest Warrant after authorities in Northern Ireland determined they had sufficient evidence to charge him with the murders of Mr Johnston, 32, and Mr Eames, 33.

In 2013, Downey was charged with murdering four Royal Household Cavalrymen in a bomb attack in London’s Hyde Park in 1982.

He was tried at the Old Bailey in 2014 but the case dramatically collapsed after it was revealed he had received a written assurance from former prime minister Tony Blair’s government that he was not actively wanted by the authorities.

The letter was allegedly issued under the terms of the controversial On The Runs (OTRs) scheme.


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