Cardiologist asked to assess troop
A specialist cardiologist will be asked to assess whether a British soldier who fired a rubber bullet that killed a schoolboy in Northern Ireland is fit to give evidence at an inquest.
The new inquest will examine the death of 11-year-old Francis Rowntree, who was hit on the head by the military projectile as he played with friends at the Divis Flats complex close to Belfast's Falls Road in April 1972.
The former member of the Royal Anglian Regiment who fired the baton round, known only as soldier B, has already provided a general practitioner's report to a Belfast coroner expressing concerns about the impact a court appearance could have on his health.
A lawyer for coroner Jim Kitson told a preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast that the GP's assessment was not up to date and more medical evidence would be required.
Barrister Philip Henry noted that in the report it was mentioned that soldier B was under the care of a consultant cardiologist.
Mr Kitson said the best person to conduct a new assessment on the potential inquest witness was the heart specialist.
"The most appropriate to give evidence as to their capacity is the person who is providing that treatment," he said.
Martin Wolfe QC, representing the Ministry of Defence (MoD), told the coroner he would direct that such a request was made of the doctor.
The Rowntree family's barrister Fiona Doherty noted they had asked for an independent assessment from a doctor unknown to soldier B.
But she said an application for such a move would be "premature" until the findings of the cardiologist were known.
Francis died four days after he was struck from injuries including a fractured skull.
Controversy surrounds the shooting, with disputed claims on whether the young boy was struck directly or hit by a ricochet, and if the bullet had been doctored to make it potentially cause more injury.
At an earlier preliminary hearing it was revealed that the soldier could be ultimately referred to criminal prosecutors.
Mr Kitson had said he would assess whether the case should be handed over to the region's Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Barra McGrory - a move that would have effectively suspended the inquest.
The coroner said after reviewing legal submissions on the matter from the Crown Solicitors Office and the next of kin, he had decided not to take the action at this stage in proceedings, and instead would keep the issue "under review".
"The matter will be kept under review but no direct action will be taken at this stage to ensure the inquest proceeds as expeditiously as possible," he said.
Under legislation a coroner is obliged to refer a case to the DPP if evidence of a potential criminal offence emerges during an inquest process. A new inquest into the killing was ordered by Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin in 2012.
There have been previous inquest cases referred to the DPP but usually after the proceedings have concluded.