Inquest suspensions may be challenged

The families are considering legal action.

The Ballymurphy families are considering legal action after inquests into a dozen controversial killings were suspended by Northern Ireland's senior coroner because of potential national security concerns.

Thursday, 15 November 2012
  • Troubles
  • courts
  • News

Attorney General John Larkin QC had referred the controversial cases - some of which date back 40 years - to coroner John Leckey for new inquests in an effort to find out what happened and to end years of disagreement.

But now Mr Leckey has said he feared Mr Larkin may have overstretched his powers and the matter could now go before the High Court in Belfast.

Details of the disagreement emerged as a preliminary hearing into one of the killings due to go ahead on Thursday morning was suddenly adjourned.

Mr Leckey told the hearing: "Clearly the attorney general takes a view as to his jurisdiction and powers which is diametrically opposed."

He is to write to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and the attorney general after he received an expert legal opinion on the matter seeking clarification.

Mr Leckey added: "National security was clearly to be an issue for some (inquests)."

The families of the 11 people killed by the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy in 1971 said they will consider challenging the coroner's decision in the courts.

So too will the relatives of Francis Rowntree, who became the first rubber bullet fatality resulting from army activity after he was shot in April 1972 by a soldier from the Royal Anglican Regiment as he played with friends at the Divis Flats complex in Belfast.

They have waited 40 years to have a proper inquest into the death of their loved one and this development is a step backwards for them.

Padraig O'Muirigh, Rowntree family solicitor

"The manner in which the coroner decided to inform us of his decision was discourteous to the Rowntree family," family solicitor Padraig O'Muirigh said.

"We are currently considering a judicial review against the coroner in relation to this decision."

Meanwhile UUP Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott has called on Attorney General John Larkin to consider his position.

"The Attorney General is certainly proving rather accident prone to the point where I believe he must now consider his position," said Mr Elliott.

"Today's decision by the senior Coroner John Leckey on the grounds that in ordering coroners inquests the Attorney General John Larkin has exceeded his brief and strayed into reserved matters of National Security, is of real concern."

Sinn Féin Justice spokesman Raymond McCartney also expressed concerns.

"This is obviously deeply concerning and upsetting for the families involved, who have already waited too long to find out the truth about the death of their loved ones," he said.

"Not only is it disappointing that the inquests have been suspended, but the matter in which that action was taken by the Coroner showed a lack of respect and sensitivity to the families concerned.

"Previous inquests were and are seen nowadays for the sham they were and new inquests were the only means the families had of finding out the truth about the killing of their loved ones."