By Clint Aiken
THE long running inquest hearings into the deaths of
ten Tyrone people killed in controversial circumstances could end up in the European Court of Human Rights..
Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew said the Ministry of Defence and the PSNI may have to face the court in Strasbourg if they do not disclose documents relating to the deaths.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP said the British justice system could not deal with cases involving allegations of collusion or of a shoot-to-kill policy within the security forces.
Ms Gildernew said: “We’re certainly en route to the High Court and will probably have to go to Europe to get this sorted out.”.
The position of the PSNI and Ministry of Defence over the release of documents to the Coroner’s Court has been described as ‘nothing short of scandalous’.
The comment was made at the resumed hearings into the deaths of Kevin Barry O’Donnell, 21, Peter Clancy, 19, Sean O’Farrell, 23, and Daniel Patrick Vincent, 20.
They were killed by the SAS at St Patrick’s Church, Clonoe, on February 16, 1992. The ambush followed a gun attack on Coalisland Police Station.
Also the subject of the resumed hearing were the deaths of Lawrence McNally, 38, Pete Ryan, 37 - both from Ardboe - and Coalisland man Tony Doris, 21. The IRA admitted the three men were on “active service” after they were killed by the SAS in Coagh on June 3, 1991.
Also part of the hearing were the UVF murders of Kevin McKearney, 32, and his uncle Jack, 69, as the result of a gun attack in their Moy family butcher shop on January 3, 1992; and the UVF murder of Dungannon pensioner Rose Ann Mallon, 76, as she watched television on May 8, 1994.
The inquests had been adjourned to allow for written submissions from the various parties on their positions on the release of documents relating to the deaths.
Acting for the Mallon and McKearney families, Counsel Mr Seamus Tracey said it was unprecedented for the MoD to contend the proper forum for the commiseration of Public Interest Immunity certificates was at the High court.
He said no such submission had ever been made in any other case and said Public Interest Immunity should be decided by the court sitting in the case.
The families he said were angered and frustrated to have to come to court again as a result of the actions of the PSNI and MoD who were refusing to provide unredacted copies of materials relating to the coroner’s investigation.
Mr Tracey said: “It’s unique in Northern Ireland and probably the UK that Government agencies are not prepared to provide all the documents needed.”
He said: “This is nothing short of scandalous.”
Mr Tracey went on to say: “It is clear the police are under a statutory obligation to hand over all documents relating to these deaths to this court.”
Mr Tracey also pointed out no certificate for Public Interest Immunity had been signed by any minister in this case, yet the MoD and PSNI were refusing to hand material over.
He pointed to the MoD submission a subpoena could compel the PSNI to produce the documents and argued why this would be required when it was their statutory duty to provide them.
Coroner Roger McLernon said the issue wasn’t just the production of documents but the production of documents in unredacted form.
Mr Tracey went on to point out the MoD was a public authority and as such had a duty to adhere to the Convention of Rights and would be under a legal obligation to co-operate with the police and the court.
Mr Declan Morgan, Counsel for the MoD, said the position adopted was not intended to give offence to the families or the court.
He said the legislation provided a mechanism which could require the attendance of witnesses with documentation.
Mr Morgan said the High Court could decide on the issue or remit the decision to the Coroner’s Court.
It prompted Mr McLernon to say it could mean the High court would be making a decision on documents it had seen in an unredacted form which were not available to him.
During lengthy legal argument it was Mr Tracey pointed out the coroner should not have to go ‘cap in hand’ to the PSNI for documents they were under a legal duty to provide.
The MoD argued the coroner was under no obligation to explain why he felt certain documents relevant but might wish to explain his reasons.
The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday, September 16 when Mr McLernon will give his ruling on the submissions.