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Cost of files trawl in UVF collusion case too high, court hears

By Alan Erwin

A trawl for all police documents in a legal action over alleged State collusion with a loyalist paramilitary agent suspected of up to 15 murders could take years and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Counsel for the Chief Constable argued that ordering full discovery in a case where liability had already been accepted would be an oppressive and disproportionate step.

But lawyers for John Flynn, who sued after surviving two UVF attempts on his life, insisted the material is required to ensure any suspected police wrongdoing is uncovered.

Mr Flynn, from north Belfast, issued proceedings against the PSNI over murder bids, allegedly carried out by an agent who operated in the city's Mount Vernon area.

In 1992 a gunman tried to shoot him after he was lured to Whiteabbey Hospital on the outskirts of the city.

Five years later a second attempt was made to kill him in a failed car bomb attack.

The 57-year-old brought a lawsuit against the Chief Constable for alleged negligence and misfeasance in public office.

The PSNI has admitted his misfeasance claim and accepted he should be paid damages, which could ultimately reach £75,000. But the force denies negligence or having ever employed the agent - identified only in the case as 'Informant 1'.

He is suspected of involvement in up to 15 murders and a litany of other crimes.

Mr Flynn's action was triggered by the findings of Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan that some Special Branch officers colluded with loyalist killers. Her 2007 Operation Ballast report centred on the activities of a UVF gang allegedly led by Mount Vernon man Mark Haddock.

As part of the lawsuit, Mr Flynn's lawyers are continuing to seek access to a number of categories of documents. Last year a High Court judge ruled police had failed to disclose enough documents.

Appealing that decision, Nicolas Hanna QC, for the Chief Constable, insisted it was an unnecessary step when Mr Flynn has effectively won the case.

Senior judges were told it would take an estimated two years to identify all the files and comply with the level of discovery being sought.

A Public Interest Immunity process alone would cost in excess of £300,000, according to a Superintendent asked to assess the scale.

But Brian Fee QC, for Mr Flynn, claimed his client was treated as "collateral damage", and stressed that more information was needed for the ultimate assessment of damages.

Judgment was reserved.

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