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Files relating to Gareth O’Connor murder handed to coroner’s legacy unit

The family of Mr O’Connor believe he was killed by the Provisional IRA.

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Gareth O’Connor disappeared near the Irish border in 2003 on his way to sign bail on a charge of Real IRA membership (Family/PA)

Gareth O’Connor disappeared near the Irish border in 2003 on his way to sign bail on a charge of Real IRA membership (Family/PA)

Gareth O’Connor disappeared near the Irish border in 2003 on his way to sign bail on a charge of Real IRA membership (Family/PA)

Police have begun the process of handing over files of information ahead of the inquest of a murder victim whose body was recovered from a canal in Newry in 2005.

A preliminary hearing into the death of Gareth Paul O’Connor was held on Thursday, one of a number of legacy hearings taking place relating to Troubles killings.

Mr O’Connor, 24, was last seen in May 2003 as he travelled to Dundalk Garda Station to sign in accordance with bail conditions after he was charged with membership of the Real IRA.

The father-of-two’s body was recovered from Newry canal two years later.

His family believe he was killed by the Provisional IRA.

At the preliminary hearing, a barrister for the coroner said that police had delivered 35 files of non-sensitive material.

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Mark O’Connor (front left) carries the coffin of his son, Gareth O’Connor, from his home at his funeral in 2005 (Hayden West/PA)

Mark O’Connor (front left) carries the coffin of his son, Gareth O’Connor, from his home at his funeral in 2005 (Hayden West/PA)

PA

Mark O’Connor (front left) carries the coffin of his son, Gareth O’Connor, from his home at his funeral in 2005 (Hayden West/PA)

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He added: “They have marked those up for redactions and they are going to be reviewed now by lawyers within the legacy unit of the coroner’s office.”

The barrister said there may be a PPI (public interest immunity) application relating to sensitive PSNI material.

Barrister for the PSNI Mark Robinson said: “The matter was previously listed in 2015 and sensitive material was provided at that time.

“The approach of the police is to review all their systems and over time the number of systems has grown and checks have expanded so police will have the review of the sensitive material completed by early February.”

The coroner listed the case for a further review on March 4 and indicated that he wanted to set a provisional date for the inquest on that occasion.

A previous inquest into Mr O’Connor’s death was dramatically halted in 2015 after it emerged during the proceedings that in 2008 a so-called comfort letter was mistakenly issued to a leading suspect.

A hearing at the time was told that the letter was passed from the Government to Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly, who then passed it to the individual who was identified as a suspect in the killing of Mr O’Connor.

The on-the-run letter scheme saw 200 people told they were not wanted for paramilitary crimes committed before the Belfast Agreement in 1998.

The scheme came to light following the collapse of the 2014 trial of John Downey over the 1982 IRA bombing of Hyde Park.

The O’Connor inquest was then postponed while the Police Ombudsman carried out an investigation.

In 2019, then presiding coroner Mrs Justice Keegan announced that the new inquest would take place.


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