Belfast Telegraph

Coroner's fury at police in GAA official Sean Brown murder inquest

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

A senior coroner has attacked the lack of resources dedicated by police to a long-running inquest.

Doubt continues to hang over the future of the hearing for a murdered GAA official almost 18 years ago, despite assurances that key documents will be disclosed.

Even though a crucial Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report on the killing of Sean Brown will be handed over to his inquest, delays in obtaining a further 40 boxes of sensitive material could still hinder progress, Coroner John Leckey warned.

Mr Leckey said: "I am not saying the inquest is not going to start as arranged. I am proceeding on the basis that it will start as arranged but we will just have to wait and see."

But, in a scathing attack on the apparent lack of resources dedicated to the case by the PSNI, the coroner demanded representatives from the Department of Justice, Northern Ireland Office and PSNI attend an early morning court sitting next week to explain the long-running delays.

Mr Leckey added: "The State has a responsibility for ensuring that the various agencies of the State - the PSNI being one - are properly resourced to ensure that inquests can be dealt with expeditiously.

"The Secretary of State should ensure that some degree of independent superintendence can be exercised."

The coroner also said the hold-ups must be "confusing and frustrating" for the Brown family.

During the preliminary hearing at Mays Chambers in Belfast, concerns were raised about the disclosure of up between 35 and 40 boxes of sensitive material.

Gerry McAlinden QC, counsel for the coroners service said redactions, including the blanking out of names, had to be carried out by the PSNI before the paperwork could be disclosed.

He said: "If the present work rate is continued I could see it lasting almost three years before the entirety of the redactions is completed."

Earlier it was claimed the PSNI's failure to provide a crucial HET report was a major stumbling block in the case.

However, PSNI detective superintendent Jason Murphy, deputy head of the legacy investigations branch, which has replaced the HET, said the document could now be released, "subject to caveats".

The officer said the report was still in draft format but conceded there was no real prospect of further work being carried out because the HET had been shut down.

Story so far

Sean Brown (61) was abducted and shot by loyalist paramilitaries after locking up a GAA club in Bellaghy, Co Londonderry, in May 1997.

No one has ever been charged with the killing, described by the coroner as among the most "dreadful" of the Troubles.

A full inquest has been scheduled to start in March.

Solicitor Kevin Winters said the said the delays were having a "disastrous" impact on the Brown family who were being "retraumatised".

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