Belfast Telegraph

Police chief to testify at shoot-to-kill claim probe

By David Young

A police commander is to appear before Northern Ireland's senior coroner to explain long-running delays in disclosing files on a series of deaths linked to an alleged shoot-to-kill policy among the security forces.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris will give evidence at a preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast later this month.

The details of Mr Harris's coming appearance were agreed between the senior coroner John Leckey and legal representatives at a hearing.

The experienced officer is due to take the stand at the Royal Courts of Justice for around four hours on Monday, September 22.

Mr Leckey has repeatedly expressed concern at the length of time it is taking to hand over state files related to nine deaths in the early 1980s linked to the shoot-to-kill allegations.

The disclosure process has been running for seven years with no definitive end in sight.

The inquests are among close to 50 outstanding legacy cases still to be dealt with by the Coroner's Service.

While disclosure of police, Army and other state agency files have been a recurring cause of delay in many of the probes, those issues are arguably most acute in the deaths connected to the shoot-to-kill claims.

This is primarily because of the requirement to security vet secret investigations into the killings.

The probes were carried out by Greater Manchester Police Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker and Sir Colin Sampson, of West Yorkshire Police, in the 1980s but never published.

The PSNI is working to complete disclosure by Christmas.

The cases involve six people, including IRA men and a Catholic teenager, who were shot dead by the security forces around Lurgan and Armagh in 1982 amid claims there was a deliberate intention to kill them.

The coroner is also examining the deaths of three RUC officers who were killed in a bomb blast in Lurgan weeks earlier.

The attack was allegedly carried out by IRA men, who were subsequently gunned down in an incident claimed as evidence for a shoot-to-kill policy.

Counsel to the coroner Frank O'Donoghue QC explained why Mr Harris had been called to give evidence.

"The purpose of this is to identify where blockages and impasses are happening so we do get this finished by Christmas," he said.

Mr Leckey has warned that the inquests may not be able to proceed if there is insufficient disclosure of state files.

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