Impossible to reach conclusions on IRA man's death, coroner rules
The State has failed to prove police acted lawfully in shooting dead an unarmed IRA man in Belfast, a coroner has ruled.
Justice Horner said it was impossible to determine with certainty what happened when Pearse Jordan was killed by an RUC officer in Belfast in 1992.
In delivering his findings after the third inquest into the highly contentious death, the coroner said he was not convinced either by family claims the 22-year-old was gunned down in cold blood or by police insistence the RUC sergeant acted in self-defence.
Justice Horner noted that under European human rights laws the onus was on the State to prove that, on the balance of probabilities, the killing was lawful.
He said given his inability to reach a firm conclusion on what had happened, the State had failed to prove that point.
"It is sufficient to record that no version has been put forward which commends itself to this inquest on the balance of probabilities," he said.
Mr Jordan had been driving a stolen car suspected of ferrying IRA munitions when the fatal incident unfolded. He failed to stop when ordered by police and sped away from a patrol car.
The Ford Orion was finally brought to a halt on the Falls Road when police rammed the vehicle. Mr Jordan was shot after getting out of the car when he tried to run away.
The family pointed to civilian witnesses who alleged he was shot in the back as he fled the scene, but police claimed Mr Jordan had turned quickly back toward them, prompting concern he was going to open fire.
The investigation into the shooting has been beset by controversy and delay. In 2014, the Jordan family were awarded compensation for the lengthy hold-ups in concluding an inquest.
An original inquest was adjourned in 1995 after being only part heard. Another probe was held in 2012 but the jury failed to reach consensus on a number of crucial issues, including whether the RUC used reasonable force.
Those findings were later quashed after the High Court identified a number of failings in how the probe was run.
One of the primary issues was the failure to disclose to next of kin a series of top-secret government reports into allegations that the security forces engaged in a shoot-to-kill policy during a period of the Troubles. The Stalker/Sampson reports did factor in the re-ordered inquest heard by Justice Horner without a jury.
Justice Horner, a High Court judge sitting as a coroner, said Mr Jordan had been on an IRA mission when he was killed.
Taking almost three hours to read his findings at Belfast's Royal Courts of Justice, he said the car had been used to ferry weapons earlier in the day, but at the time when it was stopped it was not transporting arms.
"It is now impossible with the passage of time to say with any certainty what happened on that fateful afternoon," the coroner added. He said police had failed to provide a "satisfactory and convincing" explanation to justify the use of lethal force.
Afterwards in a statement, the family said: "While the family welcome the coroner's conclusion that the PSNI failed to discharge the onus upon them to provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the use of lethal force, they are nonetheless very disappointed that the coroner failed to conclude on the evidence that the shooting of Pearse Jordan was unjustified."
They said they will now study the verdict closely before considering further legal action.