Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Body in sunken car: family bids to see sensitive files

Gareth O'Connor from Armagh with his son Eoghan
Gareth O'Connor from Armagh with his son Eoghan

An inquest into the death of a dissident republican murdered because he was a suspected police informant could be "derailed", a Coroner's Court has been told.

The inquest into the death of Gareth O'Connor (below), whose decomposed body was found inside a car in Newry Canal in June 2005, is facing significant delay because his family want to see sensitive police papers which identify people linked to the killing.

It is believed the 24-year-old father-of-two, from Knockamell Park, Armagh, was abducted and killed by the IRA in May 2003 on his way to sign bail at Dundalk Garda station.

Gerry McAlinden, barrister for the Coroner's Service, said naming certain people could put them at risk of death or assault and under the State's duty to protect life each person had to be given an opportunity to challenge the disclosure.

He said: "If their names may be revealed through the process of this investigation, you (coroner) have to allow them to know in advance that such disclosure is going to take place and thereafter allow them to make representation to you in advance.

"This procedure has the potential to derail the timescale of this inquest but it is a procedure that has to be gone through." A non jury inquest is scheduled for November, but Mr McAlinden raised concerns that timescale could slip.

He added: "The process that we are about to engage in is dependent on funding; it is dependent on resourcing and it is dependent on the reaction of those individuals. My concern is that it may well jeopardise the date of this hearing."

The preliminary hearing in Belfast was also told of three possible scenarios which could have resulted in Mr O'Connor's death – an investment that turned out to be a scam, that he was a police informant, or that he was involved in a disagreement with certain individuals.

Solicitor Paul Dougan said the O'Connor family did not want to engage in a "witch-hunt" but believed disclosure of the names could provide clarity about the circumstances of his death.

Mr Dougan also claimed the family would have to accept the limited scope of an inquest in establishing whether or not Mr O'Connor was killed because he was a police informant.

He added: "If the scope cannot determine whether he was or was not or whether those who killed him were motivated by that, maybe that's as good as it gets."

A request was made for the PSNI to inform individuals their names could be released through the court process.

But PSNI solicitor Ken Boyd said it was not the force's duty to provide legal advice on the infringement of rights.

He added: "These individuals are not under threat. These individuals might not even know their names are on these papers. The police will not engage on such an exercise."

Coroner John Leckey said he would have to write to the Justice Minister to raise resourcing issues.

BACKGROUND

Gareth O'Connor disappeared as he drove south to answer bail conditions in the Republic in May 2003. Two years later his decomposed body and car were pulled out of Newry Canal.

But a post-mortem was inconclusive and dental and DNA tests were carried out.

The blue VW Golf was found close to Victoria Lock on the edge of the city after a two-day operation. Detectives believe he was killed by the IRA. The IRA denied this.

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