The British government put pressure on the PSNI to release suspects arrested over the attempted murder of Sammy Brush, who is now a serving Dungannon councillor, it has been claimed.
The phone call from Government in 2007 was made at the request of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, retired Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter told a Westminster committee.
Mr Baxter branded the intervention as an “illegal and unconstitutional” attempt to pervert the course of justice.
The ex-officer said he refused the request and noted that one of the men arrested - Gerry McGeough - was subsequently convicted of attempted murder.
The former senior detective levelled the explosive claims while giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is investigating a controversial scheme set up by the last Labour government to deal with fugitive republicans.
Mr Baxter first alleged the Northern Ireland Office put pressure on the PSNI to create the circumstances where on-the-run suspects, who in some instances were “high profile members of Sinn Fein”, could return to the UK.
He then claimed pressure had also been exerted from Downing Street in regard to the 2007 arrests of Gerry McGeough and Vincent McAnespie in relation to the attempted murder of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) solider Sammy Brush near Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone in 1981.
“They were arrested, I have a note here, on the 8th of March some time around tea time and taken to the serious crime suite at Antrim,” he said.
“At 9.10pm I received a phone call from the duty ACC (Assistant Chief Constable) at (PSNI) headquarters.
“Gerry Adams had telephoned Downing Street demanding their release, Downing Street rang the Chief Constable’s office looking their release and I got a phone call suggesting I should release them.
“That of course in my mind is attempting to pervert the course of justice and that was conveyed back to headquarters.”
He added: “I don’t know who the personality in Downing Street was but as a police officer that is totally illegal and unconstitutional.
“We continued interviewing them and Mr McGeough was subsequently convicted for attempted murder.”
Mr McAnespie was acquitted at trial of charges related to the gun attack on Mr Brush.
The part-time UDR soldier and postman was shot as he made a delivery in June 1981. His bullet proof jacket saved his life.
Gerry Adams responded to the claims saying: “I did not ask the British Government to intervene with the PSNI.
“My protest at that time was entirely appropriate given that the British Government had given commitments to resolve the anomaly of the OTRs.”
Mr Brush, who is now a DUP councillor said he was shocked, but not surprised by Mr Baxter’s claims.
He told the BBC: “From the revelations of the get out of jail free letters I expected there would be more to come and I still think there will be more revelations to come yet because I think the government has behaved very badly towards the victims of terrorism in this country.
“The victims of terrorism seem to be expendable, but the terrorists had to be preserved.”
In a statement, the Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said: “A full account of the facts will be produced by Lady Justice Hallett’s inquiry in due course. We also anticipate giving evidence to NIAC (Northern Ireland Affairs Committee) shortly. We do not propose in the interim to provide a running commentary.”