Belfast Telegraph

Judges back decision not to disclose full dossier on UVF murder of Bobby Moffett

By Alan Erwin

The British Government was justified in refusing to disclose a full dossier on a "public execution" by loyalist terrorists in Belfast, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Judges backed the decision based on the need to protect pledges of confidentiality given by the international body that examined the murder of Bobby Moffett.

But they indicated that the issue may have to be revisited once a probe into suspected State collusion with the killers is completed.

Mr Moffett's sister Irene Owens was seeking to overturn a ruling that the Secretary of State was right to refuse to hand over all material gathered by the now defunct Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC).

She wanted the information supplied to the coroner for an inquest into the her brother's death.

Mr Moffett (43) was shot dead at point-blank range in front of shoppers and children on Belfast's Shankill Road in May 2010.

With no one ever charged in connection with the murder, Ms Owens believes some of those responsible may have been either State agents or shielded from prosecution.

In September 2010 the IMC issued a special report declaring the killing had been sanctioned by the UVF leadership.

The IMC concluded that he was targeted due to his perceived flouting of UVF authority, and to send a message to those in the organisation and the community that this authority was not to be challenged.

In its report the IMC described the killing as a public execution, but declined to say that it amounted to a breach of the terror grouping's ceasefire.

So far only an edited version of the report has been supplied for the purposes of holding an inquest.

In 2015 the High Court dismissed Ms Owens' bid for a judicial review of former Secretary of State Theresa Villiers' decision to refuse to disclose all material on her brother's murder from the IMC archive.

She appealed that ruling, arguing that there was an investigative obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to provide the information.

Counsel for Ms Owens suggested that the IMC probably knows the killers' identities.

He also contended that the Government is under a legal duty to disclose the report - irrespective of any alleged security force collusion.

But the Secretary of State's legal representatives insisted complete confidentiality was fundamental to the IMC ability to gain the trust of those who provided information.

Others would be put off co-operating with future commissions if pledges of privacy were breached within a few years, it was claimed. It was also confirmed that the Secretary of State had not studied the contents of the report.

Ruling on the appeal, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan pointed out that the outcome of an ongoing Police Ombudsman investigation into Ms Owens' allegations could impact on the inquest and the extent to which the IMC material could assist.

He described the Secretary of State's response as postponing the decision to examine the dossier.

"Having regard to the importance of the confidentiality of the archive, which was acknowledged by the appellant, we do not consider that the approach of the respondent was the result of misdirection or irrational," Sir Declan said.

Dismissing the case, he added: "We further do not accept that it gave rise to a breach of Article 2 of the Convention.

"We acknowledge, however, that the decision may need to be revisited when the Ombudsman's report becomes available."

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