FAMILIES of the IRA Hyde Park bomb victims yesterday thanked Sun readers for their support after Legal Aid bosses finally agreed to fund a civil action against prime suspect John Downey.
The Legal Aid Agency caved into pressure after five previous refusals to pay for the attempt to bring Downey to justice.
John Downey could now face a hearing after Legal Aid bosses finally agreed to fund a civil action
It means IRA man Downey, 66, whose criminal trial collapsed because of Government and police bungling, could face a civil hearing at London’s High Court as early as this year. It will establish once and for all his role in the bombing.
The victory comes nine months after The Sun launched a campaign alongside the families to back their case, raising more than £85,000.
SarahJane Young, 40, whose dad Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young was 19 when he died in the 1982 atrocity, said: “I just want to say thank you to each and every Sun reader who has supported us since last April.
“When I heard the news, I burst into tears. It’s the best day I’ve had in years.
“We’ve had such great support from our lawyers, from MPs and The Sun. I only dreamed we’d ever get to this moment, but now anything’s possible.”
Four British soldiers — Lance Corporal Young, Corporal Roy Bright, Trooper Simon Tipper and Lieutenant Anthony Daly — were killed in the attack on 20 July 1982. A further 31 were injured. Seven cavalry horses also died.
Downey, who insists he is innocent, was due to face an Old Bailey trial four years ago.
But it collapsed when it emerged because of police and Government mistakes he had been wrongly sent a letter promising immunity from prosecution in a secret scheme under the Good Friday Agreement.
The families decided to pursue him through the civil courts but were repeatedly denied the Legal Aid to finance their attempt.
The LAA claimed in October 2015 the case was “not in the significant wider public interest.”
An appeal was rejected two months later, with the LAA now claiming there was no “real benefit” to the public in pursuing Downey.
In February last year, the LAA said it was “not proportionate” to fund the case after lawyers for the families sought a judicial review.
Then in June, the LAA filed a fourth refusal — this time claiming Downey was highly unlikely to defend any case. The agency also argued money raised by The Sun’s appeal meant the campaign had “alternative sources of funding”.
But Downey did file a defence in August. He claimed he had been framed in a conspiracy between MI5, the Met, the CPS and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
When the families made a fifth attempt the LAA refused again, now saying Downey’s defence was so strong the claim had little chance of success.
The families’ anger was heightened by the revelation that Downey’s lawyers had been given £50,000 to defend him during his criminal trial in 2014. The news came as it was also revealed the LAA had paid out £22 million to lawyers acting for jihadis and other terror suspects in recent years.
On Friday the LAA caved in and agreed to fund the families’ case.
It said: “We can confirm legal aid has been awarded to families of the victims of the 1982 Hyde Park bombing. We reviewed the application in accordance with the information provided and the legal aid regulations.
“Our deepest sympathies remain with those affected by this atrocity.” The families’ lawyer Matthew Jury said: “We don’t know what has changed.
“Perhaps the relentless stream of letters we sent to everyone, from the Minister for legal aid (no reply), to the Lord Chancellor (no reply), to the Prime Minister (no reply).
“Perhaps it was the countless MPs and Peers who voiced their support and asked questions in Parliament (only to be fobbed off).
“Perhaps it was the relentless pressure of the Hyde Park Justice Campaign, backed by The Sun.
“Perhaps the Government had become aware the families were scheduled to meet the Shadow Justice Secretary and feared the opposition would get the jump on them.” The civil claim against Downey seeks tens of thousands of pounds in damages for personal injury, as well as aggravated and exemplary damages over the attack.
Simon Tipper’s brother Mark Tipper, 57, said: said: “We’re getting closer to justice.
“It’s a huge breakthrough and I can’t thank our lawyers and The Sun and its readers enough.”
Sources yesterday said the families previous applications had failed to meet criteria for funding — but new evidence that was submitted meant the threshold had now been met.
THE families’ lawyers Jason McCue and Matthew Jury said the civil action is not about compensation — but about justice and closure.
They said some of the families also hope their campaign will persuade the authorities to look again at five other terrorist incidents Downey is linked to.
The lawyers added: “Perhaps they’ll inspire other victims denied justice to come forward and take the fight to the terrorists. You can’t put a price on that and it’s the least the Government owes them. It must do more than offer tea and sympathy.”
The lawyers said that despite routinely funding those accused of the most terrible crimes, the LAA refused the Hyde Park families five times.
They added: “The first time we applied for legal aid, the agency told us to approach a veterans’ charity instead.
“It was the equivalent of needing a triple bypass, only for the NHS to tell you to write to the British Heart Foundation for help.”
Families' battle for legal aid
OCTOBER 2015: Legal Aid Agency says funding civil case is not in the ‘significant wider public interest’;
DECEMBER: LAA says it is not “proportionate” to fund the case because there is no “real benefit” to the wider public;
FEBRUARY 2017: LAA saysthere is not enough public benefit to fund the case;
JULY: LAA claims John Downey is unlikely to file a defence and argues Sun readers’ donations will cover costs without the need for public cash.
DECEMBER: LAA now says Downey’s defence is so strong there is only a slim chance of success.
FEBRUARY 2018: LAA caves in.