Northern Ireland police breached human rights of relatives in Glenanne Gang terror probe
Police chiefs unlawfully frustrated any chance of an effective probe into suspected State collusion with a loyalist gang behind more than 100 murders, the High Court has ruled.
A judge held that victims' families were denied in their legitimate expectation that the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) would publish an overarching thematic report on the so-called Glenanne Gang's killing spree throughout the 1970s.
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Mr Justice Treacy said: "The Chief Constable, in halting that process which had been openly promised and which was acknowledged to be essential to the HET's purpose, has turned his back on a potentially rich source of evidential opportunities.
"The decision frustrates any possibility of an effective investigation which would fulfil the Article 2 (of the European Convention on Human Rights) duty which now arises, and has foreclosed any possibility that the Article 2 duty will be fulfilled."
Lawyers were given until the start of September to try to agree on the appropriate form of relief in the case.
Up to 40 bereaved relatives packed into the courtroom to discover they had won their case.
Judicial review proceedings were brought in the name of Edward Barnard. His 13-year-old brother Patrick was among four people killed in a St Patrick's Day bomb attack on the Hillcrest Bar in Dungannon in March, 1976.
Five years later Dungannon UVF member Garnet James Busby was convicted after admitting his role in the attack.
The murder gang based at a farm in Glenanne, Co Armagh, contained members of the RUC and UDR.
Up to 120 murders in nearly 90 incidents in Mid Ulster and Irish border areas are under scrutiny.
They include outrages such as the 1975 Miami Showband massacre, where three members of the popular group were taken from their tour bus and shot dead on a country road in Banbridge, Co Down, and the Step Inn pub bombing in Keady a year later, which claimed the lives of two Catholics. A draft HET report into alleged security force collaboration with the killers was said to have been 80% finalised before being shelved.
Mr Barnard and other relatives want to have police compelled to complete the full investigation and publish the findings.
During the hearing his barrister said documents in the case revealed Busby named two other suspects who allegedly took the bomb to the bar.
He argued that the development represented fresh evidence in the case.
Counsel for the Chief Constable insisted it would be an unnecessary step to force police to finalise an overarching report he claimed had yielded no new investigative opportunities.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Treacy held that a package of measures for ensuring the independence of the HET, agreed by a Committee of Ministers in 2009, began to be "dismantled" a year later.
In 2010 operation of the HET, which had its own £34 million budget, and all cases with potential evidential opportunities was transferred to the PSNI.
Four years later the PSNI established its Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB) to take over from the HET amid severe budgetary pressures. The LIB's ability to continue its predecessor's work is undermined by reduced resources, significantly reduced scope and lack of independence, according to the judge.
He pointed out how the HET had repeatedly pledged to analyse the Glenanne series of atrocities separately and complete a report.
"The unfairness here is extreme - where the applicant had believed that the murder of his brother would finally be considered in context for the purposes of discovering if there was any evidence of collusion in the murder, that process is now completed and will not be taken up by any other body," Mr Justice Treacy said.
"It has completely undermined the confidence of the families whose concerns are not only still unresolved but compounded by the effects of the decisions taken by the then Chief Constable."