Families of the victims of the so-called Glenanne gang have taken a "step on the path to truth" after a legal challenge into the alleged lack of investigation into the loyalist unit was sent for a full hearing, it has been claimed.
SDLP MLA Alex Attwood highlighted the significant development for relatives after leave to seek a judicial review of how police probed the gang - suspected of carrying out more than 100 murders during the 1970s - was granted at the High Court in Belfast yesterday.
The brother of one schoolboy victim has issued proceedings against the PSNI Chief Constable, claiming a collective failure in conducting thematic inquiries through the Historial Enquiries Team (HET).
Patrick Barnard (13) was one of four people who died in a bomb at the Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in March 1976.
The murder gang, based at a farm in Glenanne, Co Armagh, allegedly contained members of the RUC and UDR . Claims of security force collusion continue to surround the spree of killings carried out on either side of the border.
With the HET now effectively shut down, Patrick's brother Edward wants a court order compelling police to complete an overarching investigation and to publish the findings.
In court yesterday his London-based barrister Danny Friedman QC revealed that lawyers for the Chief Constable were not seeking to stop the case at this stage.
He told Mr Justice Treacy: "We understand the proposed respondent will not oppose leave."
Tony McGleenan QC, for the Chief Constable, confirmed that was the case. Mr Friedman also disclosed that investigative journalist Anne Cadwallader's book Lethal Allies: British Collusion In Ireland is to feature in the proceedings. The judge listed the case for a two-day hearing on May 7-8.
Speaking after yesterday's court hearing, Mr Attwood called for greater state accountability over the activites of loyalist paramilitaries.
He said: "Today is testimony to the resilience of the families. It is another step on the path to truth and accountability, but there is yet a long road to travel.
"The murders carried out by the gang, the knowledge of people in state agencies and the horror and legacy of the deaths, means that the state must be held to account."
The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) was set up in 2005 to investigate more than 3,000 murders and ultimately closed due to budgetary pressures.
It had, however, suffered significant damage to its reputation, with inspectors alleging it did not probe killings carried out by the military with the same rigour as those by paramilitaries.
The PSNI has temporarily taken responsibility for its work while Chief Constable George Hamilton warned that a new independent body for investigating Troubles murders, the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), could take two years to start work.