21 'shoot-to-kill' witnesses dead
Twenty-one police witnesses to alleged security force shoot-to-kill incidents in Northern Ireland are dead, a coroner's court has been told.
Up to 40 more are elderly and may have difficulty giving evidence, the preliminary hearing in Belfast heard.
The case involves six people, including IRA men and a Catholic teenager, shot dead around Lurgan and Armagh in 1982. Inquests into the deaths have been delayed for many years.
Barrister for the police Gerry Simpson QC said: "In relation to police witnesses a total of 144 police witnesses who were interviewed by Stalker/Sampson (investigation team) have been identified. Of those, 21 are deceased and of the remaining group some 30-40 are 75 years plus of age."
Coroner John Leckey is investigating the 1982 deaths of IRA men Eugene Toman, Sean Burns and Gervaise McKerr near Lurgan, Co Armagh. In November 1982, police fired 109 bullets into the car the three IRA men were travelling in after they claimed it crashed through a checkpoint. It later emerged the three were suspected of involvement in the killings of three Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers in a bomb a fortnight earlier and had been under observation.
Mr Leckey also plans inquests into the deaths of teenager Michael Tighe, shot dead by the RUC at a hay shed near Craigavon, Co Armagh, in November 1982, where rifles were stored, and suspected INLA men Roddy Carroll and Seamus Grew, shot dead near Armagh in December 1982.
An investigation into whether police planned to kill them was carried out by former Greater Manchester Police deputy chief constable John Stalker and Sir Colin Sampson of West Yorkshire Police.
The Stalker and Sampson reports have never been made public.
The coroner is also probing the deaths of Sergeant John Quinn and Constables Alan McCloy and Paul Hamilton. The three RUC officers were killed by an IRA bomb which exploded beneath their armoured police car. They were investigating a report of a robbery in Lurgan when the bomb exploded and sent their car flying into a field.
The next review hearing for the inquest will be held on May 13.