Judge: British letters to IRA fugitives not 'get out of jail free card'

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A British judge says government-approved letters assuring Irish Republican Army fugitives that they weren't wanted by police didn't amount to a "get out of jail free card."

Justice Heather Hallett said Thursday the policy of sending "assurance letters" to on-the-run IRA members was flawed, but not illegal.

The little-known letters came to light after the arrest of John Downey, who was charged with a 1982 bomb attack that killed four soldiers and seven horses in London's Hyde Park. His trial collapsed in February after Downey revealed he had been sent a letter in 2007 telling him — mistakenly — that he wasn't wanted.

Hallett found two other cases where letters had been sent in error to people who were being sought by police.