Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Difficulty over legacy cases in focus again

Editor's Viewpoint

The problems of dealing with the legacy of the past are brought into focus by two court decisions reported in this newspaper today.

It is tempting to suggest that new forensic techniques, fresh eyes on intelligence reports and evidence gathered at the time of historic crimes together could easily produce justice for the bereaved in many cases.

But, as the decisions demonstrate, achieving justice can be a very nuanced task.

One of the cases involves 82-year-old Ivor Bell, who has yet to be arraigned on charges linked to the murder of west Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville more than 45 years ago.

But a judge has deemed he is unfit to stand trial and that a jury may later be asked to determine the facts of the case, but not rule on Mr Bell's innocence or guilt.

In that case he must remain presumed innocent of involvement in the crime.

For Mrs McConville's family, who have fought valiantly to clear her name of accusations that she was an informer, and whose campaign uncovered the horror of the IRA's policy of the Disappeared - victims they killed and secretly buried - are left wondering what new leads can ever be uncovered.

In the other case, the sister of a man shot dead by loyalist multiple murderer Michael Stone has won permission to challenge his eligibility to seek parole.

Three of Stone's murders were captured on television when he opened fire at mourners at an IRA funeral in Milltown Cemetery.

He also committed three other murders and was sentenced to 30 years, but released early on licence under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

However, he was later returned to jail for attempting to kill Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Stormont.

Now the courts will be asked to consider if the six years he spent on licence should be considered part of his original sentence or whether he still has time to serve before being considered for parole.

Deborah McGuinness, the sister of Milltown victim Thomas McErlean, understandably feels that a man guilty of six sectarian murders and who has shown recidivist tendencies should serve as long as possible behind prison bars.

What is justice and can it really be achieved in many legacy cases? It is an interesting debating point, but one very relevant to bereaved relatives.

Belfast Telegraph

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