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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 December 2005, 16:22 GMT
Officer criticises fugitive plans
Mr Leighton made his remarks when pushed by politicians
Mr Leighton made his remarks when pushed by politicians
A senior police officer has criticised the controversial on-the-run legislation and said policemen and soldiers should not be covered by it.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton also said it would only affect a small number of cases being investigated by the Northern Ireland Cold Case Review.

It would not have a major impact upon about 2,000 unsolved murders, he said.

Senior officers have criticised plans to allow paramilitary fugitives to return without serving a prison term.

Mr Leighton made his remarks when pushed by SDLP and DUP politicians at a meeting of the Policing Board.

He told members: "If you are asking me as a police officer do I like legislation that proposes that people who would be put before a court are going to walk away, then the answer is clearly no.

"It's not why any police officer becomes a police officer, but I don't write it - I don't put it through. That's for politicians to do.

"I don't like it and I don't think any police officer likes the thought of this legislation, but we will have to live with whatever legislation is passed."

The first hearing in the committee stage of the Northern Ireland (Offences Bill) took place on Tuesday.

The plan covers up to 150 people wanted for crimes committed before 1998.

Proposed law

Those covered under the legislation would have their cases heard by a special tribunal, and if found guilty, would be freed on licence without having to go to jail.

The government and Sinn Fein argue that it clears up "an anomaly" left by the release of those already in jail after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The proposed law would set up a two-stage process. First a "certification officer" would decide if someone was eligible for the scheme.

IRA gunmen
People suspected of being involved in terrorism could return

This could be a paramilitary on-the-run, someone living in Northern Ireland who is charged with an offence before 1998 or a member of the security forces accused of an offence committed when they were combating terrorism.

The case would then go to a special tribunal, consisting of a retired judge sitting without a jury. The tribunal would have all the normal powers of the Crown Court but the accused would not have to appear for their trial.

If found guilty they would have a criminal record but would be freed on licence. They would have to provide fingerprints and DNA samples to be granted their licence.

The scheme will be temporary but a precise cut-off period is not specified in the bill - instead its expiry is linked to the lifetime of the chief constable's historic cases review team, which is looking at unsolved murders during the Troubles.

Licence plan for fugitive cases
09 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
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09 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Blair faces 'bumpy ride' over fugitive plan
09 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Blair defends 'on-the-runs' plan
07 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland

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