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Judge blasts MoD failings over Troubles killing probes

By David Young, PA

Published 29/01/2016

Patrick McVeigh’s daughter Patricia and her solicitor Padraig O Muirigh outside Belfast’s Laganside Courts yesterday
Patrick McVeigh’s daughter Patricia and her solicitor Padraig O Muirigh outside Belfast’s Laganside Courts yesterday

A senior judge has told the Ministry of Defence if it has enough money for nuclear warheads, it has enough resources to carry out work on inquests into Troubles killings carried out by soldiers.

Lord Justice Weir, who is conducting a review of more than 50 long-delayed historical inquests, also questioned the Government's commitment to its international obligations to investigate the contentious deaths.

The judge was scathing when told the reason the MoD had missed deadlines for disclosing classified papers to the coroners' courts was due to resource pressures.

Rubbishing the claims, he said: "The MoD is not short of money.

"It's busy all over the world fighting wars and it's about to buy some new submarines with nuclear warheads - so it's not short of money."

He added: "This is obviously very low on their list of priorities."

Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, (below) has asked judge Weir to assess the 56 stalled cases, relating to 95 deaths, to determine why they are still stuck in the coronial system, in some instances almost 45 years after the deaths.

Many of the delayed probes involve killings carried out by the security forces.

On the ninth day of the two-week exercise in Belfast's Laganside Courts, Judge Weir examined the cases of seven IRA men shot by the SAS in two separate ambushes in the early 1990s and the shooting of Belfast father-of-six Patrick McVeigh by the Army's secretive Military Reaction Force (MRF) unit in 1972.

The PSNI's Legacy Investigations Branch is currently investigating allegations the MRF committed numerous random attacks on civilians over a number of years in the 1970s.

Insisting that the MoD put more effort into handing over papers to the next of kin, judge Weir made clear the holding of investigations was not "optional".

"It's not like buying a new Jeep or getting a new regimental mascot," he said.

"This is not an option - this is an international obligation on the State."

He told a lawyer from the MoD: "You want to avoid any suspicions that this approach is designed to prevent the matter being aired in a public arena, that it's a deliberate attempt to delay and obfuscate - you want to avoid people thinking that. The best way to do that is let people see what you have got."

Judge Weir was also highly critical of the lack of disclosure from the PSNI in the McVeigh case, branding it "disgraceful" that "not one pick of paper has been given to the next of kin".

In the case of IRA men Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Sean O'Farrell, Patrick Vincent and Peter Clancy, who were killed by the SAS in Clonoe, Co Tyrone, in 1992, the judge was told the MoD still had not disclosed documents to the court - more than a year after committing to do so.

Outside court, Patrick McVeigh's daughter, Patricia, welcomed the judge's remarks. "It's been a long drawn-out process, we are trying to be patient," she said.

"There is light now at the end of the tunnel after hearing Judge Weir today."

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