Suspension on killings inquests lifted

Suspension on killings inquests lifted

Up to 21 inquests into controversial killings in Northern Ireland are set to proceed after a suspension on the probes was lifted.

The tribunals, ordered by Attorney General John Larkin QC, had been put on hold when senior coroner John Leckey questioned whether he had exceeded his powers.

But a legal challenge to that move brought by relatives of some of those killed was formally ended at the High Court in Belfast on Monday.

A lawyer for one of the families later confirmed the judicial review proceedings were halted because Mr Leckey has now lifted his suspension.

The hearings were adjourned at a preliminary stage last November amid uncertainty over the Attorney General's right to authorise them.

At the time the coroner, appointed chief legal adviser to the Northern Ireland Executive in 2010, cited potential national security issues.

The dispute centred on whether the cases should instead have been considered and directed the Advocate General for England and Scotland.

The coroner's decision provoked outrage among relatives of those whose deaths were to be scrutinised.

Lawyers for a number of the families launched legal challenges, claiming the move was unlawful and procedurally unfair.

The deaths which were due to be scrutinised include 11-year-old Francis Rowntree, who was hit by a rubber bullet fired by a soldier in west Belfast in 1972.

The inquest will now proceed and we ask the coroner to list it for a further preliminary hearing as soon as possible.

Solicitor for Teresa Slane, widow of UDA victim.

Another case involves Gerard Slane, a 27-year-old father of three shot dead by the Ulster Defence Assocation at his home in the city in 1988.

His killing sparked claims of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces.

Proceedings were also brought on behalf of relatives of Gerard Casey, murdered by the Ulster Freedom Fighters in Rasharkin, Co Antrim in 1989; Danny Doherty and William Fleming, shot dead by the SAS in Derry in 1984; and Francis Bradley, killed by the SAS near Castledawson, Co Derry in 1986.

A full hearing of the families' judicial review challenge was due to take place next week.

But in court today the case was brought to an end, with the judge told there was no long any requirement for the challenge.

Outside the court solicitor Paul Pierce of Kevin R Winters, representing Mr Slane's widow Teresa, said: "We welcome the decision by the coroner to lift the suspension in relation to these inquests.

"It's unfortunate that the coroner did not give Teresa Slane the opportunity to address these issues in advance of taking that decision.

"Had he done so there would have been no need to bring these judicial review proceedings challenging the decision, which has only resulted in further delay for the Slane family."

SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood welcomed the lifting of suspensions on inquests including the inquest into the Ballymurphy massacres.

"The decision by the coroner John Leckey to abandon his decision to suspend the inquest into the Ballymurphy Massacre is welcome but there are serious question marks as to why he took the action in the first place," he said.

"Many families were put through unnecessary stress. It is important that these inquests are now progressed as a matter of urgency."

© UTV

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