Belfast Telegraph

Mothers of soldiers found dead in Co Down fail in coroner challenge over psych report

Lance Corporal James Ross was found hanged at Ballykinler in 2012
Lance Corporal James Ross was found hanged at Ballykinler in 2012

By Alan Erwin

The bereaved mothers of two soldiers found dead at a Co Down barracks have failed in a High Court challenge to a coroner's order for them to disclose a psychiatric report.

Lance Corporal James Ross, 30, from Leeds, and Rifleman Darren Mitchell, 20, from London, died within three months of each other at Ballykinler base in 2012 and 2013.

Both veterans of Afghanistan, the men were reportedly found hanged.

Amid concerns raised over welfare provisions, public hearings at their joint inquest are due to get underway early next month.

The two dead soldiers' mothers, Linda Ketcher and Carol Mitchell, have commissioned a report from a consultant psychiatrist for the proceedings.

This was done in response to reports prepared by a different psychiatrist.

Lawyers for Ms Ketcher and Ms Mitchell decided their report should not be disclosed to the Coroner or any other agency on the ground that it is protected by litigation privilege.

In October last year he rejected that contention and ordered it to be handed over.

The coroner said if the next of kin had obtained the report for civil or criminal litigation he would have upheld the claim for privilege.

He pointed out how the purpose of the inquest is to find answers to a series of questions through an inquisitorial process.

Counsel for the two mothers sought a judicial review, claiming the Coroner's reasoning was flawed.

They also contended that he had wrongly assessed the inquest proceedings as being only inquisitorial, and never adversarial.

Dismissing their challenge, however, Mr Justice McCloskey backed the Coroner's decision to order disclosure.

He said: "If their stance is upheld, the report will be suppressed and, in consequence, its contents will not be known to the Coroner or any other participating agency.

"Material evidence will, in consequence, be buried."

The judge added: "The Coroner was, in my view, bound to conclude, as he did, that this report would not be protected from production in civil proceedings in a court in Northern Ireland on the ground of litigation privilege."

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