Belfast Telegraph

Drama as Gareth O'Connor inquest is halted by document

By Chris Kilpatrick

It had previously been referred to simply as 'Error 2'. Yesterday it emerged that referred to one of those suspected of involvement in the murder of Gareth O'Connor.

The 24-year-old father-of-two disappeared in May 2003. It wasn't until two years later a car containing his body was dragged from the Newry Canal.

Last year an independent review of the on-the-runs scheme identified two unnamed individuals who had potentially been sent so-called letters of comfort in error.

Senior Coroner John Leckey told yesterday's court he was only made aware of the development by the police on Friday afternoon, just days before the long-delayed inquest into Mr O'Connor's death was due to start.

A lawyer for the PSNI apologised to Mr O'Connor's family for the timing of the disclosure. The suspect in Mr O'Connor's murder was issued the letter on October 22, 2008. Mr Leckey read its contents into the public record after telling the court the inquest had to be postponed.

The document stated that the then-Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward had been informed by then-Attorney General Baroness Scotland that the individual was not being sought by the authorities in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the UK.

Counsel for Mr Leckey, Gerry McAlinden QC, outlined Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly's involvement. He said Mr O'Connor's father Mark had contacted the MLA after his son's disappearance in 2003.

In a statement made to police, Mr O'Connor claimed that after two attempts to contact Mr Kelly at his office, the politician phoned him back. At the time Mr Kelly had made public statements saying he believed the IRA's insistence that its members were not involved in abducting Mr O'Connor.

Mr O'Connor claimed that during the phonecall he put it to Mr Kelly that the IRA was involved but said the North Belfast MLA said he stood by his statements.

Mr McAlinden said at the close of the call Mr O'Connor claimed Mr Kelly assured him he would call him back if he heard anything more about the case. "He never called back," said the lawyer.

Mr McAlinden told the court that, five years later, when the OTR letter was issued to the person suspected of being involved in the murder, Mr Kelly was the conduit. "That's a matter of public concern and it's something that will have to be looked at in due course in terms of the investigation of this matter," he said.

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