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High Court judge ‘should oversee Westminster terror attack inquests’

Inquests into the deaths are not expected to be heard before early next year.

The Home Secretary wants a High Court judge to oversee the inquests of those who died in the Westminster terror attacks.

James Eadie QC, for the Government, told a pre-inquest hearing on Friday that this was the best way of achieving an “efficient, effective and speedy inquest”.

This was on the basis that there may be sensitive national security material relating to the incident which could only be viewed and assessed by a designated judge. He made his submissions at a hearing of Westminster Coroner’s Court, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The coffin of Pc Keith Palmer leaves the Palace of Westminster (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Dr Fiona Wilcox, senior coroner for Westminster, said it was an “important issue” and invited submissions from interested parties to be sent to the chief coroner for consideration.

Inquests into the deaths are not expected to be heard before early next year – and decisions have yet to be made on the number of inquests and whether they will all involve a jury.

Five people were killed by Muslim convert Khalid Masood in the March 22 attack. He drove his car into people on Westminster Bridge before stabbing Pc Keith Palmer inside the grounds of the Palace of Westminster.

A new set of security gates were installed following the attack (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mr Eadie said a “series of areas” the inquest may look at included evidence known to state agencies, prior to the Westminster events, of the suspect’s background and “propensity to act in this way”, and whether this was “a predictable and preventable incident”.

Other areas were evidence relating to security at the Palace of Westminster, and whether “any person or organisation may have been involved in the planning or implementation of this incident”.

The QC said: “No decision has been made as to the proper scope of this inquest, but on the basis of those areas and requests made to security and intelligence agencies, it is plain that they will stray into security sensitive areas. And that raises a problem.”

The Duke of Cambridge lays a wreath following the attack (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Eadie told the coroner that the key question was whether there was a “proper basis for assuming that the coroner who runs this inquest will not need to consider national security material”.

He added: “If so, then the relevant judge is the answer and there is no good reason to take the risks of dislocation, delay and disruption”.

Mr Eadie said the Government’s position was that it was “extremely keen” to avoid unnecessary delays to the inquest process. He said: “We have a strong interest in an efficient, effective and speedy inquest being conducted. Our submission is that this is the best way of achieving it.”

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