Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Coroner gives his backing to public inquiry into spate of loyalist killings

Seamus Dillon, a 45-year-old former paramilitary prisoner, was gunned down outside the Glengannon Hotel
Seamus Dillon, a 45-year-old former paramilitary prisoner, was gunned down outside the Glengannon Hotel

Northern Ireland's Senior Coroner has said a public inquiry would be the most appropriate way of investigating alleged links between a series of loyalist paramilitary murders in the 1990s.

John Leckey was responding to a request from the widow of a hotel doorman shot dead by Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) gunmen to widen the inquest into his death to cover six more killings.

Seamus Dillon, a 45-year-old former paramilitary prisoner, was gunned down outside the Glengannon Hotel in Dungannon in December 1997.

At a preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast a lawyer for his widow Martina asked Mr Leckey if he would be willing to widen his examination to cover potential links with other loyalist murders as part of an all-encompassing "thematic" inquest into all the deaths.

The request by Mrs Dillon's legal team was based on information disclosed to it by the police as part of the preparatory inquest steps.

But Mr Leckey expressed doubt about the practicality of conducting such a wide-ranging exercise through the Coroner's Court. "The administrative difficulties in pulling all the strands together would be immense given there would be a multiplicity of legal representatives," he said.

Mr Leckey suggested a public inquiry may be a better way to conduct a wider investigation, but said the authority to order such a probe rested with politicians, not him.

The coroner suggested that Mrs Dillon's legal team write to a Government minister if they wanted to pursue the public inquiry route.

He indicated his intention to proceed with Mr Dillon's inquest as a single case and set a provisional start date of November 10 this year.

The killing of Mr Dillon, a dad-of-three from Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, happened hours after LVF leader Billy Wright was gunned down inside the Maze prison.

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