Fatal crash vehicle to be examined
A range of engineering experts are to examine the charred shell of a police 4x4 in which four officers were killed ahead of an inquest into their deaths, a coroner's court has heard.
Constables Declan Greene, 39, Kenny Irvine, 30, Kevin Gorman, 24, and James Magee, 27, died when they were trapped inside their burning Shogun patrol vehicle after it crashed into a wall in Co Down.
The officers, who all hailed from the Mourne area, were responding to an emergency call out in the middle of the night when the horror smash happened on a stretch of winding coast road between the harbour towns of Warrenpoint and Rostrevor in November 2008.
A preliminary hearing at Belfast coroner's court heard that four experts are set to give evidence at the inquest - either on behalf of the police, some of the bereaved relatives, or forensic services.
Mark Robinson, representing the PSNI, told coroner Suzanne Anderson an expert commissioned by the police would be examining the vehicle in March.
Michael Egan, representing the family of Constable Magee, said an expert hired by the relatives' legal team would look over the 4x4 on that day as well.
Mr Egan said the engineer would also like to test drive a vehicle similar to the one involved in the crash.
Ronan Daly, a lawyer for Ms Anderson, said it would be desirable if all expert witnesses giving evidence in the case got together before the hearing to assess which points they agreed and disagreed on.
Mr Egan urged the coroner to ask that any discussions between witnesses were minuted so as to avoid any confusion when it came to the inquest.
The coroner said she would not order that to happen, but expressed hope the individuals would agreed to such a request.
"If we can get this by agreement that would be the best course of action," she said.
Including the experts, a total of 26 witnesses are set to give evidence when the inquest commences.
Ms Anderson said while it would be convenient for the families for proceedings to be heard in Newry, she said availability in that court was very limited.
The coroner suggested holding the probe, which is set to heard by a jury, in Belfast over the course of two weeks in June.
Mr Robinson predicted that more time may be needed to be set aside.
"I'm just concerned two weeks won't be enough," he said. "I think it may take three weeks."
Mr Daly raised another potential issue with a June start date.
He explained that three of the lawyers involved in the case - namely himself, Mr Robinson and the barrister representing the Gorman family, Fiona Doherty - were all involved in another inquest that was potentially running in Omagh at the same time.
That probe - into the death of murdered Castlederg teenager Arlene Arkinson - has encountered some issues that may impact on its timetable.
Mr Daly said there should be more clarity around the Arkinson case by next week.
Ms Anderson said it would be appropriate to wait for another two weeks before making any final decision on a start date.
"The best course of action is to wait until the Arkinson matter is finalised," she said.
Another preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Friday February 28.