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'Biased' legal system means no justice for dad, says IRA victim's girl

Exclusive: Family anger at no inquest for UDR man shot 40 years ago

By Cate McCurry

Published 10/09/2016

James Speer, who was shot dead in 1976
James Speer, who was shot dead in 1976
His daughter Cheryl Patton

The daughter of a murdered UDR man said she cannot get justice for her father because the family cannot afford the spiralling costs of a legacy inquest.

Cheryl Patton (54) claimed the "unjust" legal aid system favoured legacy cases that involve alleged wrongdoing by the State against IRA victims.

Her father, UDR man James Speer, was working in his garage in Co Londonderry when he was shot in the head in November 1976 by an IRA gang.

An inquest has never been held into the death of the father-of-three, which has compounded his family's grief over the last four decades.

Mrs Patton's mother, Ruby died two years ago, having never seen anyone convicted of her husband's murder.

Jimmy, as he was known, is one of 80 deaths yet to be heard in outstanding legacy cases.

The family were told the cost of an inquest could run to £1m because of the elements involved in investigating a death that happened 40 years ago.

Last week, the Lord Chief Justice called on political leaders to make urgent progress on the agreement of funding for the outstanding inquests. Sir Declan Morgan said the backlog of cases was hugely disappointing.

The Speer family, which has been refused legal aid, said they could never afford the cost of their father's case.

Mrs Patton, a married mum-of-four who lives in Desertmartin, explained: "They (the legal aid board) were questioning the time limit and said there wasn't a reasonable chance of success, though they weren't clear on what that means.

"It leaves my family devastated because it's now 40 years since my dad was murdered and we have absolutely no justice.

"People talk about closure. The inquest would give us something. We would know everything that could be done is being done. We are supposed to be living in a civilised society, but there is nothing civilised about picking and choosing who is worth an inquest and who is not.

"An inquest would be a massive burden lifted. This is on our mind everyday and it's something you live with day to day."

Mrs Patton said that she along with her brother and sister would continue their fight to have the probe, which she believes will reveal further details surrounding the murder.

She added that inquests into controversial killings by police officers and soldiers were being given priority and being granted legal aid.

"I think it shows the total one-sidedness of this country," she said. "We are deeply proud of our dad and his sacrifice for our country and all the other soldiers and police officers who gave their lives, but we see how unjust the legal system is in not supporting those who defend us. They only seem to want to back people who want to fight the State in every way possible. It's such an imbalance of power.

"If our entire family sold everything they had, they still wouldn't be able to cover the cost. It could run into £1m and we could never pay that."

Innocent Victims United (IVU) spokesman Kenny Donaldson called for Sir Declan Morgan to address the "rank imbalances" of the legal aid system.

He said innocent victims and survivors of terrorism are "being failed" by the justice system.

"The Lord Chief Justice has intervened on several occasions, insisting Government funding should be made available to enable legacy inquests to proceed without further delay," he added.

"IVU asks where is his intervention when advice to the legal aid board around the rank imbalances within the legal aid system concerning legacy cases? When will innocent victims of terrorism experience equality with those cases where there is alleged wrongdoing by the State?

"The innocent victims and survivors of terrorism are being failed and discriminated against by a justice system which is loaded against them.

A Legal Services Agency spokesperson said: "The Legal Services Agency does not comment on individual applications for legal aid."

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