Soldier murder accused John Downey refused bail

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John Downey pictured at an earlier court hearing

By Alan Erwin

A 67-year-old man charged with murdering two British soldiers in 1972 must remain in custody, a High Court judge ruled today.

John Downey was refused bail amid fears he could flee before any trial for the car bomb attack which killed Ulster Defence Regiment members Alfred Johnston and James Eames in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.

Mr Justice Horner cited the "real and substantial risk" he could attempt to abscond.

The judge said: "Given the applicant's age, if convicted he may well remain in custody until his death. "He does not enjoy good health, and any period of custody will be onerous."  

Downey, with an address in Creeslough, Co Donegal, is facing prosecution after losing a battle against being extradited from the Republic of Ireland.

He was detained in October 2018 under a European Arrest Warrant, exhausting all appeals before handing himself in to the authorities earlier this month.

Lance Corporal Johnston and Private Eames died in an explosion on the Irvinestown Road in August 1972.

They were carrying out checks on a car when a command wire initiated device was detonated, killing them instantly.

The bomb went off as a truck carrying 13 off-duty soldiers approached, blowing it onto its side and injuring some of the troops inside.

That lorry is believed to have been the primary target for the attack.

Downey is also charged with aiding and abetting an explosion likely to endanger life.

Prosecutors claimed his fingerprint was found on insulating tape used to construct the device.

Although the original impression has since degraded, photographs of it were said to have been used in "multiple comparisons".

They included analysis carried out on prints taken from Downey earlier this month, and also after his arrest at Gatwick Airport in 2013 for the 1982 bombing at London's Hyde Park.

He had been due to stand trial for the murder of four Royal Household Cavalry men in the Hyde Park attack.

But the case against him collapsed after it emerged that he received a letter of assurance from the British Government that he was not wanted for any offences.

IMAGE: John Downey arriving at an earlier court hearing - Pics by Alan Lewis

The prosecution now intends to rely on the fingerprints taken at Gatwick as evidence in the present case. Bail was opposed due to the alleged risk of flight.

It was contended that the Enniskillen attack occurred outside the early-release period covered by the Good Friday Agreement - providing a strong incentive to abscond.

Defence barrister Michael Duffy countered that the charges against Downey centre on fingerprint evidence which will be contested as a potential abuse of process.

He claimed delays in bringing the prosecution could be prejudicial, and also questioned the intention to rely on witnesses who are now dead.

Without the print there is no case against his client, Mr Duffy argued.

The court heard Downey has serious health issues and abided by all conditions during his extradition battle.

As the accused appeared via a prison video-link, a number of Sinn Fein representatives were present for the ruling. Mr Justice Horner held that bail must be denied at this stage.

"I'm not satisfied I can manage the real and substantial risk of the applicant absconding, which arises primarily from the fact these are very serious offences in respect of which, if convicted, he's likely to be incarcerated for a long period of time." the judge said.

He stressed, however, that any unjustified delays could result in Downey being released in future. ends

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