Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Delays over inquest into PSNI killing farcical, says coroner

Neil McConville was shot dead by PSNI officers in a car at Ballinderry
Neil McConville was shot dead by PSNI officers in a car at Ballinderry

Police legal delays to an inquest into the first death caused by the force have been branded farcical by a coroner.

Neil McConville (21) was shot dead by the PSNI – the first fatality since the organisation replaced the RUC following peace process reforms – after a chase near Lisburn in April 2003.

It has been months since police received a legal request to check the officers' service records to establish if they had roles in other security force killings.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson told a preliminary hearing of an inquest in Belfast: "It is very disappointing that we are no further on.

"We are not asking for the cross-reference, we are simply asking for a timetable. It has reached almost a farcical stage." Police pursued a car driven by Mr McConville, from Bleary near Craigavon, on the correct suspicion it was transporting a firearm.

When they reached Ballinderry Upper an officer shot him three times, fearing he would drive over another officer he had already knocked down and injured in his efforts to escape.

Then Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan said the fatal shots had been justified but other elements of the operation, in particular its management, were heavily criticised.

Baroness O'Loan said that after an initial collision with police vehicles, officers ordered him to stop the engine and get out. However, he reversed at speed and hit and injured one of the officers.

The prone policeman was in the vehicle's path and when Mr McConville changed out of reverse gear and again tried to drive off, a police colleague – fearing the officer's life was in danger – fired three times.

Mr McConville was declared dead in Lagan Valley Hospital. His passenger was injured and later jailed for possession of a sawn-off shotgun which was recovered from the vehicle.

Mrs O'Loan found that the operation had not been managed to minimise the possibility of use of lethal force.

A previous preliminary inquest hearing was told two senior officers involved in directing the PSNI operation also had roles in controversial security force killings during the Troubles – incidents the family's legal team argue are relevant.

The detective superintendent and inspector played roles in the incident that resulted in IRA man Pearse Jordan (22) being shot dead by police in west Belfast in 1992, while the inspector had also been in the RUC undercover unit that shot dead Catholic teenager Michael Tighe at a suspected IRA arms dump in Co Armagh in one of the Troubles' so-called shoot-to-kill incidents in 1982.

QUOTE

"We turn up here on every occasion and we have the same sob story from the PSNI on every occasion. We complain and it is upheld and we come back next time and there will be some reason why it cannot be done within the timescale. This is becoming farcical. They ought to give a detailed outline of what steps they have taken."

Karen Quinlivan QC, barrister for the McConville family

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