Belfast Telegraph

PSNI file redactions bid accepted

A Government bid to withhold sensitive police information from an inquest investigating the murder of a father of two whose body was found inside a car dumped in a canal has been accepted by a coroner.

Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey said all Public Interest Immunity (PII) applications made in regard to the case of Gareth O'Connor met the required threshold for approval.

The 24-year-old from Armagh disappeared near the Irish border in 2003 on his way to sign bail on a charge of Real IRA membership. His body was found two years later in a car in Newry canal. No one has ever been convicted in relation to his death.

His family allege he was murdered by the Provisional IRA - a claim the organisation denied at the time he vanished - while there have also been suggestions dissident republicans may have been involved.

Police had used the PII process to try to prevent details about sources and investigative methodology being released into the public domain. A Government minister had to sign off on the PII certificates before they were forwarded to Mr Leckey for consideration.

The coroner had asked police lawyers to justify their proposed redactions in PSNI files being given to the inquest during a closed court hearing last month.

At an open preliminary hearing in Belfast this afternoon, Mr Leckey announced that the PSNI had met the required threshold for him to agree to the PII bids.

"I uphold in its entirety its claim for Public Interest Immunity," he said.

The brief hearing was also told that the evidence of a senior detective who investigated the murder could assume added significance when the inquest finally gets under way.

A barrister representing Mr Leckey said the retired officer would be asked to cover all aspects of the case on the witness stand - a move that would cut the requirement to call many other proposed witnesses.

Gerry McAlinden QC said: "Rather than having a very lengthy list of witnesses it may be possible for the senior investigating officer to give very comprehensive evidence on all of those issues which would obviate the need to call a large number of other witnesses."

Mr McAlinden stressed that the former detective had yet to be interviewed to assess his view of the suggestion.

Mark Robinson, representing the PSNI, said he hoped the retired officer could be spoken to within the next two weeks.

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