Belfast Telegraph

Legal bid over UVF shootings probe

A man who claims loyalist gunmen colluded with the security forces to murder his parents has launched a legal challenge over the state's handling of the historic investigation.

Charlie and Tess Fox were gunned down in the kitchen of their isolated home in Moy, Co Tyrone, in September 1992 by a UVF gang.

Anthony Fox, one of the couple's six children, has applied for leave to take a judicial review against the UK Government, Stormont's Department of Justice and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for an alleged failure to deliver an effective probe into the shootings.

The legal challenge, which claims the authorities are in breach of human-rights law, raises concerns that examinations by both the police's Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the Police Ombudsman have fallen victim to Stormont budget cuts, which have seen resources diverted away from Troubles investigations.

It further argues that the HET probe has been "tainted and undermined" by a reliance on ballistic evidence that has now been discredited.

While five men were convicted in relation to the killings, Mr Fox's lawyers claim some of those convictions have been rendered unsafe by the recent revelation that police at the time wrongly identified the murder weapon.

The misidentification of the Czech-manufactured rifle was disclosed last year during the inquest of another victim of the same mid-Ulster UVF gang - pensioner Roseann Mallon, who was shot dead as she watched television at a house near Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in May 1994.

Mr Fox said an HET summary report given to him in 2012 relied on the wrong weapon ID.

He said the HET subsequently apologised and pledged to continue its investigations and compile a new summary report - a document he says he has yet to receive.

An inquest was never held into the deaths as it was contended the facts surrounding the case had been examined during the criminal proceedings.

But given the error relating to the weapon, Mr Fox's legal team insist the original rationale for not holding an inquest has been fatally undermined.

In a separate development, the family has written to Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC asking him to open an inquest.

Mr and Mrs Fox, aged 65 and 53 respectively, were not involved in paramilitary activity but a week before their deaths their son Patrick had been jailed for being in possession of an IRA bomb.

In the wake of the murders, Patrick Fox alleged that the security forces had threatened to set him and his family up to be killed.

Anthony Fox said the family believed collusion had been at play.

"The UVF admitted responsibility for the attack," he said in a statement lodged with the judicial review challenge.

"However, I and my five siblings have always maintained that British State forces colluded in our parents' killings, including by identifying two of my brothers to the UVF for targeting as members of the IRA and/or by allowing the killers free passage to and from our home on the night of the murders and on scoping missions beforehand."

The stand-alone HET is being wound up by the end of the year and its work is being taken on by a new, and much smaller, legacy unit within the PSNI while the Ombudsman has dramatically reduced the number of investigators working on historic cases - a move that is set to delay probes by years.

Under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the state has an obligation to investigate deaths in a prompt, independent and effective manner.

Among other issues cited in the application for leave for judicial review against Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, Stormont Justice Minister David Ford and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, Mr Fox expressed concern about the security of files being transferred from the HET to the new PSNI legacy unit.

He also questioned whether the new unit would be sufficiently independent of the PSNI given the case involves allegations of collusion by the service's predecessor, the RUC.

"It has become increasingly clear to me and my siblings that the HET has made little headway in conducting a full, effective and impartial investigation into my parents' death, and that the withdrawal of resources from legacy investigations relating to the Troubles will but compound that failure," he said.

A spokeswoman for Ms Villiers said it would not be appropriate to comment on individual cases.

She added: "We await the outcome of the ongoing legal proceedings."

A spokesman for the Department of Justice also declined to comment on the specific case but he said: "The Justice Minister David Ford has recently said that the Department of Justice is not funded to deal with the past and additional funding should be provided by the British and Irish governments."

A PSNI spokeswoman said: "As the matter is subject of live proceedings it would be inappropriate for PSNI to comment at this juncture."

The case will be heard in Belfast High Court on Wednesday.

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