Belfast Telegraph

Barrister accuses PSNI of contempt

Police are treating the coronial service with contempt, a preliminary inquest has been told.

The claim was made by a barrister for the family of Liam Thompson, who was shot dead on a peace line in Northern Ireland more than 20 years ago.

Fiona Doherty expressed frustration after it emerged sensitive case files, which were due to be disclosed last December, were still not ready for dissemination.

She said: "This is another example of the contempt with which the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) treats this forum.

"This is happening in numerous inquests. It is just not good enough."

Mr Thompson was gunned down near a joint police and Army station in New Barnsley almost 21 years ago.

The 25-year-old, from Dermott Hill in Belfast, was shot dead by gunmen near the peace line at Springfield Park in April 1994.

A preliminary inquest hearing at Mays Chambers in Belfast was told that a change of personnel within the PSNI's legacy support unit meant work on Troubles-related deaths had been effectively stalled until the 14 researchers and two supervisors were fully trained.

Barrister Stephen Ritchie, representing the police, said: "I understand my learned friend's anger.

"But, the people who were doing this work were experienced people but they have been removed from the job for various reasons and new people have been brought in. They have to be trained up.

"It is common sense."

The court was also told that PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris had written to the Coroner's Service highlighting budgetary pressures and requesting a prioritised list of legacy inquests.

Ms Doherty described the PSNI's failure to provide a time scale for the disclosure of the documents, including a report by the Historical Enquiries Team, as "nonsense" and called for someone to be brought to court to explain the ongoing delays.

"This is an inquest into a death that took place in 1994 -- 21 years ago," she added.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson said she shared the frustrations of Thompson family's legal team but stopped short of summoning a senior police officer to give evidence.

She said: "I agree it is really frustrating that we seem to be going round in circles."

Another preliminary hearing has been scheduled for May.

The coroner has also instructed her solicitor to write to the office of the Lord Chief Justice on the issue of the legacy inquest prioritisation and requested that a "realistic" time frame be provided by the police

"I do not want this matter to drift," Ms Anderson added.

Meanwhile, outside the court, the victim's brother Eugene Thompson said he believed the PSNI was trying to stall the inquest process.

He said: "They say they do not have the manpower.

"I think they have had 21 years to get things started.

"I do not understand why all of a sudden manpower is a big problem.

"I think they hope it will just go away but I am not going to go away."

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