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Family concerned over bid for closed-doors hearing into Kieran Doherty death

Lawyers for the family of Real IRA man Kieran Doherty have said they are "deeply concerned" after the state attempted to hold a hearing into his death behind closed doors.

Coroner Brian Sherrard ruled the unusual closed session be allowed after he was told that to disclose details on documents posed a risk to life.

But a later intervention by counsel for the next of kin means further legal discussions are set to take place in an attempt to resolve the differences.

Mr Doherty's body was found dumped in Braehead Road in Londonderry on February 24 2010. The 31-year-old had been stripped and bound before he was shot dead.

The Real IRA claimed responsibility for the attack.

Doherty family lawyer Paul Pierce said: "We have come here today for a further preliminary inquiry on this matter, to be told moments before this was to commence that the Crown Solicitor's Office on behalf of the Secretary of State and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) wanted to go into closed hearing.

"As we have seen, there were three hours of discussion back and forward, much of which we were not involved in at all, but it was only on the basis of our objections to those closed hearings taking place that the matter has resolved itself today; the normal process for the consideration of documents and redactions will be carried out as it normally is.

"We are deeply concerned about the way in which the state is approaching these cases by attempting to have closed session hearings and exclude the next of kin and their legal representatives."

Counsel for the PSNI told Belfast Coroner's Court that disclosing some information could present a risk to life and sought the closed session to discuss the concerns.

But family barrister Fiona Doherty said there had been issues about transparency in the case.

She added: "The tendency to go into closed session we say should normally be resisted unless there is a very good basis and lines of authority for that."

Coroner Mr Sherrard "reluctantly" ruled the hearing go into private session because of concerns the right to life could be endangered.

But the hearing was adjourned to allow further legal discussions.

At the conclusion of those discussions the court was told that further redacted material would be supplied to the coroner and the process should allow the family to receive it and make submissions on the omissions.

In the weeks before his death, Mr Doherty claimed MI5 attempted to recruit him as an agent and members of his family have raised concerns the UK security services could have played a role in his death.

At a previous preliminary hearing, the court was told of significant discord over the level of redaction on five files of papers between legal teams representing the police and next of kin.

Further documents may need to be blacked out, barrister for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Peter Coll added. He said he intended to make submissions during a closed session touching on whether the documents can be replaced.

Under the European Convention of Human Rights the state is under an obligation to avoid endangering life or privacy - the two concerns behind Thursday's legal arguments - and Mr Coll said the working out of these issues was not a new process in Northern Ireland.

But this would have been a second closed hearing from a separate one already planned and Ms Doherty said it came as a surprise to her and she had not an opportunity to consult with Mr Doherty's family.

"We are slightly concerned that the court should not be seen willy nilly to be going into closed session.

"It is highly unusual for this process to take place without us being aware of this material that is the subject of the closed session without having an opportunity to see it in redacted form."

She said the court could not take anything approaching evidence on the main issues in closed session.

Mr Sherrard asked: "If these are matter which one party is saying have potential to give rise to right to life issues is it not incumbent on the court in the first instance to deal with these matters in a private manner?"

He added: "Reluctantly I will hear these arguments in closed session."

The case is due to be mentioned again openly next month.

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