Donegal man John Downey charged with murder of two British soldiers

John Downey.
John Downey.

A 67-year-old man charged with murdering two British soldiers in 1972 has been granted High Court bail.

John Downey is to be released on conditions including the lodgement of a £225,000 cash surety, a judge ruled today.

Mr Justice McAlinden held that the sum being put up as security, along with the offer of a bail address in Belfast, eased any concerns he may try to flee.

Downey is facing prosecution for a car bomb attack which killed Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) members Alfred Johnston and James Eames in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh.

The accused, of Creeslough in Co Donegal, was detained in October 2018 under a European Arrest Warrant.

He fought a battle against extradition from the Republic of Ireland before handing himself in to the authorities in October this year.

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.

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

A previous court was told his fingerprint was allegedly found on insulating tape used to construct the device.

Analysis was carried out on prints taken from Downey following his extradition.

He had been previously denied bail based on the risk that he could attempt to abscond.

Downey's age was cited, along with the possibility that, if ultimately found guilty, he may remain behind bars until his death.

However, defence lawyers claimed the High Court was wrongly informed the alleged crimes occurred before the period covered by the Good Frday Agreement early release provisions.

During a renewed application Gregory Berry QC contended that all terror-related murder offences up to 1998 qualify for the two-year term served in prison.

With the prosecution disputing assertions that the accused would be eligible for early release, that issue remains unresolved.

Downey's legal team maintained there had been a sufficient change of circumstances to warrant his release on bail.

An unprecedented amount of cash and equity was offered as part of the fresh legal attempt.

It was also previously disclosed that he was proposing to live at the Belfast address of an unidentified Sinn Féin councillor.

Granting bail, Mr Justice McAlinden confirmed that a £225,000 cash surety is to be lodged before he is released.

Downey is to live at the Belfast property under curfew and is banned from leaving Northern Ireland.

He must also surrender any passports and report regularly to police as part of the conditions.