Handling of files 'inappropriate'
Inquests into the deaths of six men killed by security forces during the 1980s could be tainted because Special Branch have control of secret documents, it has been claimed in court.
Lawyers for the men's families argued that allowing four members of Special Branch and a former RUC intelligence officer to handle sensitive information relating to an alleged shoot-to-kill policy was completely inappropriate.
Barry Macdonald QC said: "The independence of the investigation is liable to be tainted by the fact that the people who now control all the material which we seek to access are the members of the self same department of those involved in these incidents."
During a preliminary hearing at Belfast's Old Town Hall it was revealed that the Special Branch team has been responsible for reading and redacting material from thousands of documents due to be disclosed to the families.
It was not made clear whether the officers retired from the RUC and were rehired under a controversial PSNI recruitment scheme. However, repeated requests were made for senior coroner John Leckey to raise the objections in a letter to the PSNI.
Mr Macdonald added: "You are not just superintending this. You have a right to indicate to the Chief Constable that it seems completely inappropriate for members of Special Branch, whether or not they were members of Special Branch in 1982, to have, not just access, but control in reading and preparing them for dissemination to the families."
The case involves six people, including IRA men and a Catholic teenager, who were shot dead by the security forces around Lurgan and Armagh in 1982 amid claims there was a deliberate intention to kill them.
The coroner will also examine the deaths of three RUC officers in a bomb blast weeks earlier, an attack allegedly carried out by the IRA men who were subsequently gunned down and therefore seen as a potential motivation for the claimed shoot-to-kill policy.
An investigation into whether police set out to kill was carried out in the years after the incidents by former Greater Manchester Police deputy chief constable John Stalker and Sir Colin Sampson of West Yorkshire Police.
The Stalker and Sampson reports were long classified top secret but the PSNI finally handed over edited versions to the coroner in 2010 after a long legal battle. The reports were then passed to lawyers for the families.