McKearneys inquest: hearing held
One time suspects in the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) murder of two family members more than 20 years ago could be called to give evidence at their inquest, a court has heard.
Kevin McKearney, 32, and his uncle John McKearney, 70, were shot in their family owned butchers shop in Moy, Co Tyrone.
A UVF gunman burst into the business at closing time on January 3, 1992 and opened fire.
Kevin McKearney, a married father-of-four, was killed instantly. His uncle was injured and died three months later in hospital.
At a preliminary hearing ahead of the long-delayed inquest, lawyers discussed what witnesses could potentially be called.
No-one has ever been convicted of the murders although one man did plead guilty to a conspiracy to murder charge in the mid 1990s.
Fiona Doherty, a lawyer for the coroner John Leckey, said the names of two suspects had emerged in papers related to the case.
She told the coroner those individuals could be people he "may want to call to the inquest".
Karen Quinlivan QC, representing the McKearney family, indicated that calling of suspects as witnesses could be an option for the coroner.
But she acknowledged that not everyone arrested in connection with a crime necessarily continued to remain a suspect.
Mr Leckey, Northern Ireland's senior coroner, said a final witness list would be decided at a subsequent preliminary hearing.
During proceedings at Belfast Coroner's Court, legal representatives also discussed whether a police investigator should be put on the case in order to take fresh statements from witnesses.
Mr Leckey said with historic inquests it was important for witnesses to be given the chance to review and potentially add to statements they had given at the time.
"I agree that in an inquest particularly when there has been a passage of time witnesses who have given statements should be allowed to refresh their memories about what's been said and given the opportunity to say more if they want to," he said.
But the coroner expressed doubt whether the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) would free up an officer for the task, citing past "resistance" from the chief constable on the grounds it was a drain on resources for present-day policing.
Ms Doherty said an investigator had been appointed to another inquest proceeding through the coroner's court - suggesting that the PSNI may have changed its approach to the issue.
Ms Quinlivan said she would like time to reflect on whether or not a PSNI officer was appointed. She said it was sometimes a necessary step in very old cases.
"This may or may not be the case (in this instance) so I would like to reflect on it and I think we should properly take instructions," she said.
Barrister Stephen Ritchie, representing the PSNI, advised the coroner to make an official request to Chief Constable Matt Baggott.
Mr Leckey told the lawyer that if an officer was appointed to take on the task he would have to be answerable to the coroner's service.
"The issue for the Chief Constable would be if he designated an officer to act as an investigating officer who would he be answerable to - it would have to be the coroner and not the chief constable," he said.
At the hearing Mr Ritchie also revealed that conflicting evidence had emerged about the history of the weapon used in the attack - details of which are set to be explored further as preliminary proceedings progress.
The murders were investigated by the police's Historical Enquiries Team (HET) in 2012 amid relatives' claims that a death threat received by the family days before the shooting was not properly investigated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
The HET concluded that the RUC did not do enough to prevent the killings.
Before his death, two of Kevin McKearney's brothers were killed while taking part in IRA operations.
Two weeks before the butcher shop shootings, protestant student Robin Farmer was shot dead by the Irish National Liberation Army in his own family shop in Moy.
The attack at the McKearney business was believed to be a reprisal attack.
Months after his death, Kevin McKearney's father-in-law and mother-in-law were also murdered by the UVF.