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PSNI lacks independence to oversee probe into claims Army shot mother, judge rules

By Alan Erwin

The family of a woman suspected of being shot dead by the military in west Belfast 45 years ago have been let down for decades by the criminal investigation system, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Maguire also ruled that the PSNI lacks the necessary independence to oversee further enquiries into the killing of Jean Smyth.

He granted her family a declaration that a proposed probe by the force's Legacy Investigations Branch would breach human rights requirements.

In a withering critique of investigations by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), the judge further raised the possibility of perceived bias and a culture of preferential treatment for soldiers linked to civilian deaths.

The verdict came in a legal bid by relatives of Mrs Smyth to ensure a fully impartial new probe by an outside agency with no links to the Ministry of Defence.

The 24-year-old mother-of-one was killed by a single shot to the head as she sat in a car on the Glen Road in June 1972.

At the time the RUC told her family that it was probably an IRA gunman who opened fire.

But records uncovered at the National Archives in Kew, London, in 2014 suggest the British Army's Military Reaction Force (MRF) fired shots in the area and was allegedly involved in her killing, the court heard.

Delivering judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Maguire stressed that she was a wholly innocent person in the wrong place at the wrong time. He said: "The awkward truth in this case is that the system for investigating serious crime has let her and her family down over a period of decades now."

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