Belfast Telegraph

Widow of Michael Stone victim Thomas McErlean wins court inquest battle

Stone carrying out his attack at Milltown Cemetery in March 1988
Stone carrying out his attack at Milltown Cemetery in March 1988

By Alan Erwin

The widow of one of loyalist killer Michael Stone's victims has won High Court permission to challenge a refusal to hold an inquest into her husband's death.

Thomas McErlean was among three mourners murdered by Stone in his infamous attack on an IRA funeral at Milltown Cemetery, west Belfast in March 1988.

His wife, Anne Marie, wants an inquest to examine her suspicions of security force collusion.

In court today Mrs McErlean was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the coroner's decision not to set up a tribunal.

Following the ruling the west Belfast woman said: "I don't believe Michael Stone acted alone; there are questions to be answered about whether he received any assistance from police or state agents."

Stone, 64, is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for waging a sectarian murder campaign.

Three of his victims were killed when he launched a grenade strike on the funeral of IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar.

Thomas McErlean, 20, John Murray, 26, and Kevin Brady, 30, all died in the cemetery attack.

Stone was also the gunman in another three separate killings.

Milkman Patrick Brady was murdered in south Belfast in November 1984, 12 months before joiner Kevin McPolin was shot in the head in Lisburn, Co Antrim.

In May 1987 Dermott Hackett, a bread server, was found dead in his van between Drumquin and Omagh. He had been shot up to 16 times with a submachine gun.

Released early in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Stone was returned to jail six years later after trying to enter Parliament Buildings at Stormont, armed with explosives, knives and an axe.

He was found guilty of attempting to murder Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness - despite claiming it had been a piece of performance art.

Earlier this year the High Court ruled that he must remain behind bars until 2024.

Mrs McErlean's solicitors, McIvor Farrell, issued proceedings after her request for an inquest was turned down last year.

The decision was based on a criminal trial having already been held, along with a pending Police Ombudsman investigation into a complaint from the McErlean family potentially offering a better remedy.

But with the Ombudsman's probe subject to budgetary issues, Mr Justice McCloskey noted it may not get underway until 2021.

He held that 51-year-old Mrs McErlean has established an arguable case on claims the coroner erred in law by determining an inquest should not be held.

The legal challenge will now proceed to a full hearing later this year.

Mrs McErlean, who was accompanied in court by her late husband's sister, Deborah McGuinness, and John Murray's sister, Patricia Lavery, added: "I'm delighted with the outcome. There are a number of issues that need to be investigated."

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