Belfast Telegraph

Suspects 'should give evidence'

Four suspects linked to the murder of a hotel doorman in Northern Ireland almost 17 years ago could be compelled to give evidence at his inquest, a coroner's court has heard.

Seamus Dillon was gunned down by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) outside the Glengannon Hotel near Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in December 1997.

The killing of the father-of-three from Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, happened hours after the outlawed paramilitary organisation's leader Billy Wright was shot dead inside the Maze prison and was seen as a revenge strike by the loyalist's associates.

A long-awaited inquest was due to start in Belfast today but was stalled so the suspects - three men and a woman - could be re-interviewed.

Karen Quinlivan QC, representing Mr Dillon's widow, Martina said: "There are good reasons why each of these persons should be called to give evidence to this inquest.

"There is more than mere intelligence."

Three of the suspects have had their identities protected and have been given ciphers in official documents.

The fourth person was named in court as Muriel Gibson who was charged but not convicted in connection with the killing after covert surveillance tapes were ruled inadmissible at her criminal trial.

Ms Quinlivan added: "It would be appropriate for the individuals to give evidence and for the court to have access to the tapes produced by the undercover operations involving Mrs Gibson."

Northern Ireland's senior Coroner John Leckey said it was now "impossible" to proceed with the inquest as planned. He said his office would write to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable to request that an investigating officer be assigned to the case.

The court also heard Mrs Dillon has made allegations of collusion between the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) - the police at the time - and her husband's loyalist killers.

Mr Leckey said: "I am aware that Mrs Dillon has made some really quite strong allegations about collusion.

"If the chief constable is minded to appoint an investigating officer, it would seem sensible, if he was, that the officer would not have served previously with the RUC.

"If he is not inclined to appoint one, I would have to take stock and consider what to do."

Lawyers for Mrs Dillon also requested that the owner of a car hijacked by the killers be re-interviewed to provide a statement for the inquest.

Concerns were also raised around inconsistencies in the ciphering process.

Martin Wolf representing the PSNI said the papers would be reviewed but warned it could take some time.

Mr Leckey said: "I accept that the task being asked of the chief constable is a significant enough task."

Gerry McAlinden QC, barrister for the Coroner's Service said the court had a duty to "rigorously and vigorously" investigate the circumstances of Mr Dillon's death and agreed that steps should be taken to deal with the issues raised.

Afterwards Mr Dillon's widow Martina said the delay was frustrating but necessary.

She said: "It has been very frustrating waiting for my husband's inquest to commence however today's decision by the coroner is very welcomed.

"We want an inquest that has the best opportunity to get to the truth rather an rushed inquest.

"Today's decision to call the previously prosecuted suspects to give evidence at this inquest is a very significant and positive development. This inquest will now provide a crucial opportunity for the family to recover as much truth as possible.

"The coroner's powers of being able to compel witnesses to attend ensures that those who have questions to answer will be forced to be made publicly accountable."

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