Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland inquest delays: 80 hearings on just three cases

Probes on Troubles' deaths drag on for families

Relatives of those killed by the army in Ballymurphy in 1971 campaign for justice
Relatives of those killed by the army in Ballymurphy in 1971 campaign for justice
The scene of the Kingsmill massacre in 1976
Daniel Carson
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

More than 80 preliminary hearings have taken place into three of the Troubles' most notorious cases - without full inquests being completed.

It comes as figures show how dozens of pre-inquest hearings have been held into legacy cases.

Probes into dozens of Northern Ireland's most controversial deaths are still outstanding - including incidents which date back almost five decades.

The delays have resulted in some families having to make journeys from all corners of Northern Ireland almost 40 times for hearings that only last around two hours at a time.

As a result, many relatives have gone to their graves without knowing the full circumstances of their loved ones' deaths.

Overall, more than 50 legacy inquests remain outstanding, with potentially 72 more cases on the Attorney General's desk for consideration.

The Belfast Telegraph used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a list of the 25 legacy cases with the highest number of preliminary hearings.

Three cases have more than 80 such hearings between them - Kingsmill (35); the Stalker-Sampson cases into an alleged RUC shoot-to-kill policy in the 1980s (27) and the Ballymurphy killings (20).

Another is the case of Roseann Mallon (76), shot dead by loyalist gunmen who opened fire on a house at Cullenrammer Road near Dungannon in May 1994, which has had 15 preliminary hearings to date.

A fifth concerns 29-year-old Daniel Carson, from Dunmurry, who was gunned down by the UVF as he left work at a hardware merchants in the Shankill area of Belfast in November 1973. It has had 14 preliminary hearings.

Issues around legacy continue to deeply divide Northern Ireland's political parties.

Although the Stormont House Agreement includes a £150m package to deal with all legacy issues, the Government has said financial resources will not be released until political consensus is reached on dealing with the past.

The families of those killed at Kingsmill, one of the most shocking crimes of the Troubles, have faced the greatest number of delays, with 35 preliminary hearings.

Republican terrorists stopped a minibus carrying a group of 10 Protestant textile workers, ordered them off the bus, lined them up and shot them at the roadside in January 1976.

The atrocity has been attributed to the Provisional IRA, but no one has ever been convicted over the murders. Only one man, Alan Black, survived, despite being shot 18 times. An inquest into Kingsmill was held at the time but a fresh one was ordered at the request of the Attorney General in 2013.

It opened in 2016 and has sat periodically, with a number of preliminary hearings also taking place in that time.

Colin Worton's brother Kenneth was among the 10 textile workers gunned down during the roadside ambush.

He said: "Over 42 years on, we would like to have been much further ahead in our quest for justice." Mr Worton said his mother, Bea, who is almost 91, is also deeply distressed by the ongoing delays.

"She often wonders if she will get answers in her lifetime, but things only seem to be dragging on.

"At the end of the day, if any truth comes out of this it may open other doors for a conviction. However, you have to be realistic that if anyone is ever going to be convicted, they may only serve around two years in jail."

Families of those killed by the Army in Ballymurphy in August 1971 have attended 22 preliminary hearings.

Ten people were shot during three days of gunfire involving members of the Parachute Regiment. They included a priest tending to those wounded and a mother of eight. Another man died of a heart attack following an alleged violent confrontation with the troops in the estate.

Last month their families expressed anger at an "11th hour" disclosure by the Ministry of Defence - seven days before an inquest was due to start.

The last-minute discovery of a database - documenting details of 4,733 soldiers who had been serving at the time of the 1971 shootings - delayed the latest hearings which were due to start on September 10. A new hearing date has been set for November 12.

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was among those killed, says families are still hopeful of one day getting to the truth of what happened to their loved ones.

"Year on year, we are losing more and more eyewitnesses and family members, but it's down to the determination and hard work of the families that we have got to this point," he said. "However, every time there's a setback, we feel the hurt."

The Stalker Sampson case has had 27 preliminary hearings. Six men were killed in late 1982 in three separate incidents which became the subject of the Sampson/Stalker report, carried out by two senior police officers, Colin Sampson and John Stalker.

Teenager Michael Tighe was shot on November 24; IRA members Eugene Toman, Sean Burns and Gervaise McKerr were shot on November 11 and INLA members Roderick Carroll and Seamus Grew on December 12.

Inquests into the deaths have been delayed for many years. The Stalker/Sampson reports have never been made public.

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