The family of an IRA man killed over claims he was an informer have launched a legal bid for access to a police investigation into claims a top British agent was involved in his killing.
Anthony McKiernan's relatives believe his murder was linked to the agent known as Stakeknife - widely named as west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci, although he denies the claim - who is said to have led the IRA's internal security unit.
At the High Court yesterday, lawyers for McKiernan's family began attempts to secure any reports from a re-examination of the case completed in 2012 by the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET). Barrister David Heraghty argued there was a legal obligation to provide material to the next-of-kin and said a four-year delay amounted to a "public law wrong".
Mr McKiernan, from the Markets area of south Belfast, was shot in the head in January 1988.His family have long maintained he was not an informer and was killed as a scapegoat. He had reportedly arranged to meet Scappaticci hours before his death.
In 2003 Scappaticci fled Northern Ireland after being named in the media as Stakeknife. Before quitting his home, however, he vehemently denied being the agent now said to be linked to up to 50 murders.
In October last year Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC called for police to examine Stakeknife's activities, along with what was known by RUC Special Branch and MI5.
Chief Constable George Hamilton has since decided detectives from an external force should handle an inquiry, which could last five years and cost £35m. The HET's re-examination of the McKiernan killing is to be included in that new probe. According to Mr Heraghty, that will compound the years of delay endured by the family.
Amid confusion about whether the HET produced a review report in the case, Mr Heraghty claimed Mr McKiernan's family have been given no information.
But Mr Justice Maguire stressed that the death, along with the wider activities of the IRA's internal security unit, remains subject to police scrutiny.
He pointed out: "Mr Scappaticci, to my knowledge, has not been made subject to any charges. While folklore has it that he was a central figure to many murders in the enforcement of IRA discipline, that's folklore. The point is, there's a live investigation into Mr Scappaticci and his (alleged) activities."
The judge also questioned the right to access files from an ongoing police inquiry, saying that he could be "besieged" by similar litigation if he allowed the bid for a judicial review to proceed.
Counsel for the PSNI emphasised that there was no HET review summary report of the McKiernan probe. He acknowledged that correspondence erroneously indicating such a dossier was sent to the Police Ombudsman had created confusion.
On that basis, Mr Justice Maguire adjourned the proceedings for an affidavit from a senior police officer to clarify the position.