Belfast Telegraph

Why we need to tackle delay in Troubles death inquests

Senior coroner John Leckey
Senior coroner John Leckey
Paul Connolly

By Paul Connolly

They were just 21 little words under the heading "Official – Sensitive". They came in a brief press release on Tuesday morning and they won't be reported anywhere else this week. But it is something you should be aware of. Because it matters.

Here's the wording in its entirety: "Official – Sensitive – Stalker-Samson Inquiry PH – Adjournment.

"Please be advised that the Preliminary Hearing due to take place today has been adjourned with a date to be fixed."

Those terse words hide an inconvenient truth. They are symptomatic of the malaise at the heart of our inquest system.

"Stalker-Samson Inquiry PH" is Coroner's Court code for the attempts to hold an inquest into the 1982 killings of nine people and the Stalker and Samson reports that hold the key to them.

Given Northern Ireland's political divisions, some people will start to lose interest when I say five of these deaths were of IRA men killed by the police in 1982 (the sixth was a Catholic teenager).

But wait. The delays are also holding up the inquests into the murders of three RUC officers blown up by the IRA weeks earlier and believed to be linked to the chain of events surrounding the killings of the IRA men. This is an across-the-divide injustice.

Relatives of an innocent teenager, RUC officers and IRA members are ALL being denied the fundamental human right of a proper State investigation into the cause of their deaths.

Not that anyone involved will have been the slightest bit surprised by the latest adjournment. This is what the police do in sensitive inquests. No one, it appears, can stop them, not even the views of Europe's highest court.

One can only feel for all of the families concerned; parents have died without knowing what happened their sons. A lawyer for the RUC officers' families has spoken of the "anxiety and distress of the next of kin" and representatives of the other victims have voiced similar concerns.

And it's not just in the obvious high-profile inquests. It happens frequently.

A few minutes after the Stalker-Samson adjournment notice dropped into my inbox, so did another. It was headed "Official – Sensitive – Seamus Dillon PH 19/06/14 – Adjournment" and told us that an inquest due to be held yesterday has been delayed. Again.

Mr Dillon was murdered in 1997, by terrorists not by the security forces. But for some reason his inquest can't be furthered at anything other than snail's speed either.

These two cases are just the tip of the iceberg – there are many others, some from the Seventies, now being blithely referred to as "Troubles legacy inquests".

Chief Constable after Chief Constable has presided over interminable delays. It's deliberate and we won't get any answers there.

But we now have a Minister for Justice tasked with, er, ensuring that justice is done and is seen to be done. That includes inquests. He has now been asked by the Chief Coroner to intervene.

Mr Ford, do you have anything to say on the matter?

{HTML_BULLET} To other matters. The recent burst of sunny weather has lifted everyone's spirits, but another thing that has played its part has been the Belfast Telegraph's Bloomin' Marvellous garden campaign.

This week we read how the pupils of Carrickfergus Model School joined residents of Wesley Court sheltered accommodation to 'green up' the complex as part of the town's Growing Together campaign. Keep up the good work!

And... if, like me, you'd settled down in front of the telly at 8pm last Thursday night, cold beverage in hand, to watch the Brazil v Croatia game you had a long wait. A certain newspaper (not the Tele) had printed the wrong kick-off time: meaning dupes like me had to endure ITV's World Cup opening ceremony 'coverage'. I'd complain to their Readers' Editor – if they had one... @BeelTelReadersEd

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