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Stalker probe may be revealed

By Chris Thornton

The top secret Stalker Report could finally be released by police after more than two decades under lock and key.

Inquests which were abandoned because the report was unavailable are about to resume - sparking expectations that the shoot-to-kill report will be handed over as part of the evidence.

Senior Coroner John Leckey will hold a preliminary hearing into the deaths of six people on October 9, 25 years after they were shot by RUC officers.

He dropped the cases in 1994, when the RUC repeatedly refused to release the Stalker Report to allow detectives who investigated the killings to refresh their memory.

But a House of Lords ruling earlier this year obliges the PSNI to hand such reports to the Coroner, unless they can get a Minister to impose a national security gag.

The six deaths which will be considered by Mr Leckey occurred in November and December 1982. Three IRA men, two INLA members and a 17-year-old youth died in the shootings, which created massive controversy because of allegations that they were shot deliberately, without attempts at arrests.

IRA members Sean Burns, Eugene Toman and Gervaise McKerr were shot outside Lurgan. Three policemen, who claimed the IRA men crashed through a checkpoint, were tried for their murders, but Lord Justice Gibson declared the officers "absolutely blameless".

Michael Tighe was shot in a police ambush inside a hayshed near Craigavon where IRA explosives were stored.

MI5 made an audio recording of the shooting, but the tape has never been released and may no longer exist.

The youth had no security record or convictions, and his family were paid compensation for his death.

A teenager wounded in the shooting, Martin McAuley, later became one of three republicans arrested in Colombia for aiding FARC terrorists.

In the third shoot-to-kill incident, INLA members Seamus Grew and Roderick Carroll were shot in a car outside Armagh.

The policeman who shot them was also tried and acquitted.

Controversy over the shootings led to a separate investigation by John Stalker, the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester Police.

He claimed his inquiry was obstructed and was removed from the investigation in controversial circumstances. The inquiry was concluded by Colin Sampson.

Previous attempts to hold inquests into the cases became bogged down in legal battles and they were abandoned in 1994 - ten years after the inquests were opened - by Mr Leckey, the fifth coroner to handle the cases.

But in March of this year the Lords ruled that police should show the Coroner all material relating to a killing, unless they can obtain a Public Interest Immunity Certificate from a Minister.

Peter Madden, the solicitor for the families of Burns, Toman and McKerr, said his firm had asked the Coroner to look at the cases again.

"The surviving RUC men responsible for firing more than 100 rounds at the car containing the deceased will now be compellable witnesses at the inquest and shall be cross-examined by the families' lawyers," he added.

"The coroner's verdict can make explicit factual findings pointing towards a conclusion that criminal or civil responsibility exists."

Belfast Telegraph

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