Surviving victims of a loyalist gun attack on a village pub 30 years ago might not still be alive by the time detectives get round to investigating alleged security force collusion with the paramilitary killers, the High Court has heard.
Lawyers for a barman who narrowly escaped being hit at the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo, Co Down claimed a failure to establish a fully independent probe into the shooting breaches his human rights.
One man, 42-year-old Peter McCormack, was murdered when a UVF gang burst in and opened fire during a darts tournament.
A number of other patrons were also injured in the November 1992 attack.
John McEvoy, who developed post-traumatic stress disorder following the shooting, is seeking to judicially review the PSNI Chief Constable for an alleged failure to ensure an independent, effective investigation.
His challenge is based on information he says points to collusion between members of the security forces and the UVF operating in the south Down area at that time.
It followed the publication in 2016 of a Police Ombudsman report into the Loughinisland massacre.
In that attack loyalist gunmen murdered six Catholic men watching a World Cup football match between the Republic of Ireland and Italy in June 1994.
A documentary film on the Loughinisland killings which named suspects, No Stone Unturned, strengthens the case for a fully independent probe, it was contended.
Even though the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) is to re-examine the circumstances surrounding the Thierafurth Inn shootings, counsel for Mr McEvoy claimed there will be an unlawful delay stretching into years.
The court heard the attack had been 542nd in a queue within the LIB’s case sequencing model, with no indication of when it will be considered due to limited resources.
Hugh Southey QC argued: “There would appear to be no reason to believe this investigation is going to start for a number of years.
“That’s a concern for the families. Mr McEvoy points out that two of the victims have died since the judicial review commenced, obviously raising a concern that they will not see justice.”
Mr Justice Humphreys was told suspects were named in the documentary, and that one referred to as Person A was identified as being allegedly linked the Thierafurth Inn attack.
Counsel also cited a newspaper article published earlier this year which claimed another of those No Stone Unturned named in connection with the Loughinisland massacre, Person I, was given weapons training by a member of the Army.
With his client alleging the current police plans breach of Article 2 rights under European law, Mr Southey added: “It is unclear what arrangements, if any, would be made to ensure ex-military are not involved in the investigation.”
However, Tony McGleenan QC, for the Chief Constable, insisted there were no allegations about the involvement of stage agents or imported arms being used in the pub shooting.
“What we have here is a very abstract suggestion of collusive behaviour by the applicant, but they don’t bear the hallmarks the court will be familiar with seeing in the context of other legacy cases,” he said.
Mr McGleenan argued that there was “no particularity” to allegations of security force involvement made immediately after the attack, or in the Ombudsman’s report.
Dealing with the independence of any police probe, he told the court: “LIB now has the capacity to put together an investigative team that has no background in either the military or the RUC.
“They can construct a team that is entirely unconnected with any of the state agencies, if it is warranted.”
Reserving judgment in the challenge, Mr Justice Humphreys indicated that he plans to watch the No Stone Unturned film before reaching a decision.
Outside court Mr McEvoy’s solicitor, Gavin Booth, said the case is “crying out for a proper independent investigation”.
He added: “Serious allegations came to light in our courts of attempted murder, and to date the only persons arrested were the journalists who made the film.”