Belfast Telegraph

Widow of innocent man killed by SAS hails major 'step towards justice'

Brigid Hughes relieved by ruling

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster
Brigid Hughes challenged Arlene Foster amid claims the DUP leader unlawfully blocked Executive discussion of a plan aimed at clearing the backlog.
Brigid Hughes challenged Arlene Foster amid claims the DUP leader unlawfully blocked Executive discussion of a plan aimed at clearing the backlog.

By Brett Campbell

The widow of an innocent civilian who was killed in crossfire during an SAS ambush of eight IRA men more than 30 years ago has welcomed a landmark High Court ruling.

Sir Paul Girvan yesterday ruled that a decision taken by former first minister Arlene Foster in 2016 to block funding of £150m for legacy Troubles cases was erroneous and unlawful.

Brigid Hughes, who challenged the ongoing failure of numerous government departments to provide adequate funding for over 50 Troubles-related inquests, described the ruling as "a significant step towards justice" and one which has "taken such a long time".

"My three children, who were four, six and seven at the time, lost a good daddy," she said.

"They are all married now and it really vexes me that my grandchildren are now the age that my children were when their daddy was murdered.

"It's very hard when they look up at the wall and see photographs of their granda - I still feel the impact of his death and I will until the day I die."

Ms Hughes, whose husband Anthony was shot dead after being caught in crossfire between soldiers and eight IRA men who launched an attack on an RUC barracks in Loughgall in May 1987, said the delay of inquests was still a matter of serious concern. "I did this for all the families because we are all entitled to justice, but funding must be sorted out because I'm not getting any younger," she added.

A DUP spokesperson said the judgment has been "noted" by the party, which "will want to study it carefully".

Ms Hughes' solicitor,Peter Corrigan, from KRW Law, said the judgment clearly showed there was a "systematic delay" in holding inquests due to the absence of a devolved government here.

"Crucially the judge has provided that there is no democratic accountability and there is a vacuum in this jurisdiction that needs to be filled," he added.

Victims campaigner Mairead Kelly, whose brother Patrick was shot during the SAS operation, described the ruling as a "monumental step forward", but said there was still a long way to go.

Mark Thompson, CEO of Relatives For Justice, called for the Secretary of State to act.

"The politics in the Northern Ireland Office and what we see as the department colluding with the DUP in seeking to block funding, was illegal and that has been made clear," he said.

"We call on Karen Bradley to immediately release funding for these inquests - the delay causes trauma to people every single day."

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill said the ruling "vindicates the long campaign" of victims and survivors and accused the DUP of punishing them through its "intransigence".

She also called on the Secretary of State to release funding immediately "as she had agreed in the recent talks process".

Former justice minister David Ford called on the Secretary of State to work with the Department of Justice and Lord Chief Justice to get the inquests moving.

"While the money will not deal with all inquests, it will get the ball rolling and bring many families closer to justice," he added.

SDLP MLA and legacy spokesperson Dolores Kelly said the judgment would be "cold comfort to victims and their families who have been waiting years for an inquest into the death of a loved one" and only confirmed what many people already knew.

Ms Kelly also called for Mrs Bradley to release the funding.

Amnesty International's NI campaigns manager said any further delay would show "utter contempt" to victims who have been denied human rights for too long.

Grainne Teggart said "victims are not political fodder" and their rights "must not be held to ransom" until Stormont has been restored.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the judgment "holes below the waterline the long-standing DUP boast that it had a veto on what ministers could even discuss in the Executive".

"This was a major part of the DUP's sales pitch back in 2007 when it assured unionists that such a veto protected their interests. Today's ruling leaves that assurance in tatters and should be further food for thought for anyone contemplating the restoration of the executive," he said.

A spokesperson for the Government said it needed time to consider the judgment, but insisted the Secretary of State was "very clear" that the current approach to legacy issues is not working. They said the Government remains committed to establishing new bodies to deal with the past as outlined in the Stormont House Agreement.

Belfast Telegraph

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