Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Inquests into Northern Ireland killings will now go ahead after coroner does U-turn

Gerard Casey was murdered by the UFF in1989 at his home in Rasharkin
Gerard Casey was murdered by the UFF in1989 at his home in Rasharkin
Murdered: Gerard Slane

Up to 21 inquests into controversial killings in Northern Ireland are set to proceed after a suspension on the probes was lifted.

The tribunals, ordered by Attorney General John Larkin QC, had been put on hold when senior coroner John Leckey questioned whether he had exceeded his powers.

But a legal challenge to that move brought by relatives of some of those killed was formally ended at the High Court in Belfast on Monday.

A lawyer for one of the families later confirmed the judicial review proceedings were halted because Mr Leckey has now lifted his suspension.

The hearings were adjourned last November amid uncertainty over the Attorney General's right to authorise them.

At the time the coroner, who was appointed chief legal adviser to the Stormont Executive in 2010, cited potential national security issues.

The dispute centred on whether the cases should instead have been considered and directed to the Advocate General for England and Scotland.

The coroner's decision provoked outrage among relatives of those whose deaths were to be scrutinised.

Lawyers for a number of the families launched legal challenges, claiming the move was unlawful and procedurally unfair.

A full hearing of the families' judicial review challenge was due to take place next week. But in court on Monday the case was brought to an end, with the judge told there was no longer any requirement for the challenge.

Outside the court, solicitor Paul Pierce of Kevin R Winters, representing Gerard Slane's widow Teresa, said: "We welcome the decision by the coroner to lift the suspension in relation to these inquests. It's unfortunate that the coroner did not give Teresa Slane the opportunity to address these issues in advance of taking that decision.

"Had he done so there would have been no need to bring these judicial review proceedings challenging the decision, which has only resulted in further delay for the Slane family."

Factfile

The deaths which were due to be scrutinised include:

  • Francis Rowntree (11), who was hit by a rubber bullet fired by a soldier in west Belfast in 1972.
  • Father-of-three Gerard Slane (27), who was shot by the UDA at his home in Belfast in 1988. Mr Slane's killing sparked claims of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces.
  • Proceedings were also brought on behalf of relatives of Gerard Casey, murdered by the UFF in Rasharkin, Co Antrim, in 1989; Danny Doherty and William Fleming, shot dead by the SAS in Derry in 1984; and Francis Bradley, killed by the SAS near Castledawson, Co Derry, in 1986.
  • Ten people shot dead by the Army in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, in August 1971.

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