Belfast Telegraph

Inquest delayed over witness issues

An inquest into the death of a Catholic man more than 40 years ago cannot proceed until over 80 military witnesses have been identified, a coroner's court has heard.

Bernard Watt, 28, was shot dead by the Army during disturbances in the Ardoyne area of west Belfast in February 1971.

At a preliminary hearing in Belfast it emerged the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was trawling through pension records to try and trace 83 soldiers who were in the area at the time of the shooting and who may be called to give evidence.

The court was told that although the Army unit had been identified, individual soldiers had not. And, a lawyer acting for the MoD said they were reluctant to put a timescale on the length of time expected to complete the task.

Coroner Jim Kitson said: "Clearly this case cannot and will not proceed until soldiers involved in this incident have been traced."

The Watt case is among the oldest outstanding inquests being re-examined following an order from Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC.

The legacy cases, which often stretch back decades, concern killings by police and troops in disputed circumstances or deaths by paramilitaries where there are allegations of State collusion.

Solicitor Padraig O Muirigh, who is representing Mr Watt's family said it was important that the next of kin and court were kept informed of progress being made by the MoD.

He said: "I do not underestimate the task.

"We continually hear that there are resource issues and my concern is that if this matter is delayed then we cannot move towards fixing a date."

Meanwhile, it was also revealed that some of the top secret military documents are illegible.

The material is being held at a secure location owned by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Ronan Daly, barrister for the Coroner's Service said he had tried unsuccessful to read the documents.

He said: "A number of legibility issues were identified and these issues are being addressed as far as possible."

The case is up for review again in 10 weeks' time.

Another preliminary hearing has been scheduled for December 1.

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