The State breached the human rights of relatives of two IRA men by failing to promptly investigate their deaths at the hands of the SAS, a European court has ruled.
Judges criticised the lengthy delays in holding inquests into the 1990 shootings of IRA members Martin McCaughey and Desmond Grew in Loughgall, Co Armagh, and into the death of John Hemsworth in 1988, six months after he was beaten by police in Belfast.
Inquests into both incidents were only heard within the last two years, with issues such as disclosure of security force papers the source of many hold-ups.
The court upheld complaints by the families of the three men that the cases were subject to excessive investigative delays and, as a consequence, found the State guilty of "procedural violations" of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to life.
But judges ruled as inadmissible the families' substantive complaints that the violent actions of the security force personnel involved were not justified and constituted "substantive violations" of the men's right to life and that the State contravened Article 13 – the right to an effective remedy.
The court said it was premature to examine such claims as proceedings in UK courts were still not exhausted, noting that civil proceedings were ongoing and future judicial, investigative or criminal proceedings were still a possibility.
Those rulings in respect of the substantive claims effectively leave the families open to relodge the complaints at a future date.
In regard to the upheld complaints, the court ordered the UK State to pay €20,000 (£17,388) in damages for loss and suffering (non-pecuniary) to Mr Hemsworth's family along with €11,000 (£9,563) for costs and expenses.
The families of Mr Grew and Mr McCaughey made no claim for non-pecuniary damages and were awarded €14,000 (£12,170) for costs and expenses.
The IRA men were killed in a hail of bullets when troops opened fire on them near farm buildings. Their deaths became one of a number of "shoot to kill" cases.