Belfast Telegraph

Lawyer's anger at inquest delay

A lawyer for the family of a man whose body was pulled from Newry canal two years after he went missing has hit out after he was told they faced another delay in holding an inquest into his death.

Solicitor Paul Dougan told Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey: "This was scheduled for November. That's nothing short of shameful."

Gareth O'Connor's badly decomposed body was found inside a car at Victoria Lock, Newry in June 2005.

The 24-year-old dissident republican from Knockamell Park, Armagh disappeared in May 2003 on his way to sign bail at a Dundalk Garda station in the Irish Republic.

He is believed to have been abducted and killed because he was a police informant.

At a preliminary hearing in Belfast, his family solicitor said he was 'flabbergasted' that issues around protecting the identity of witnesses and people named in sensitive police papers had not yet been resolved.

Mr Dougan added: "We were here in March and were told this was at an advanced stage. The papers were to be with the Minister before he went on his holiday.

"We don't know what has happened between then and now."

A non jury inquest had been scheduled for November but has been adjourned until at least February next year after it emerged police had not yet completed a public-interest immunity (PII) exercise on classified documents.

Mr Dougan added: " The family have suffered bereavement at the death of their son in 2003. His body was recovered in 2005 and it took from 2005 to 2009/10 to get disclosure addressed.

"Sensitivities around PII have been around for years. I quite frankly do not understand if something is at an advanced stage how could it take until before Christmas (to complete)."

A barrister for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said some of the delay could be attributed to the availability of the chief constable and justice minister who have the sole authority to read some of the material.

Mark Robinson said: "It is not simply that people are sitting around doing nothing. There are safeguard processes to be followed. Those processes take time but they are being expedited."

The coroner expressed determination to hold the inquest as soon as possible.

"I want the inquest held," said Mr Leckey. "I would not wish to go beyond Easter."

Meanwhile, Gerry McAlinden, barrister for the coroner's service, said: "We should try and maintain the date in February. If that's not achievable I think there would need to be a very good explanation as to why not."

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