Coroner gives commitment to try and conclude Springhill inquest before next May’s Legacy Bill deadline.  

The review of the Springhill inquest that took place on Friday morning 15th September heard the coroner Mr. Justice Schofield give as strong a commitment as he could to try and conclude the inquest before the 1st May 2024. He stated that he is determined to try and hear the rest of the civilian witnesses’ evidence before the end of this calendar year and resume the inquest in early 2024. The coroner also allowed civilian witness Brian Pettigrew to be given PIP status in the inquest proceedings. 

Mr. Justice Schofield is set to resume the Springhill inquest in early November to hear evidence from the remaining civilian witnesses. The inquest also heard the coroner state that he has acceded to the application made on behalf of the families for the inquest to begin early next year and finish before the Legacy Bill deadline. A final decision on when the inquest will resume next year will be decided at a later date in conjunction with the presiding coroner Mr. Justice Humphreys. Referring to the Legacy Bill the coroner Mr. Justice Schofield said that there was a ‘hard cut off point’ of 1st May 2024 and that unless the inquest was resumed in early 2024 there would be a danger that it may not  reach a conclusion. Whilst he said he was keen to try and finish the inquest before next May he cautioned that the Springhill inquest and other inquests were all competing for limited court resources. Nonetheless he stated,

“These deaths occurred many years ago and families have been waiting a very long time in having an inquest into the deaths of their loved ones.  A lot of preparatory has gone into this inquest, it will be changeling and need robust case management to bring it to a successful conclusion before the May deadline of next year”.

The coroner has also given permission to civilian witness Brian Pettigrew to be given PIP status in the inquest proceedings.  A ‘Properly Interested Person’ (PIP) is someone who has the right to actively participate in the inquest proceedings at the discretion of the coroner. An Interested Person will be entitled to legal advice, representation, and have access to disclosure material during the inquest proceedings.

Brian Pettigrew was shot and injured by the British Army on the night of the incident. He was already appearing before the inquest as a civilian witness to the events. However, because the soldiers had said in their statements that they had fired and hit ‘armed gunmen’ there is the potential for Brian Pettigrew to be perceived as a ‘gunman.’  The Ministry of Defence (MoD), may attempt to portray Brian Pettigrew as one of the gunmen that the British Army were firing at and that is how he received his injuries. Their strategy and tactics up to now has been to try and justify the lethal force used by British soldiers. Therefore, their cross-examination of his evidence may be important in their defence of the soldiers.  They have tried to paint a picture of the whole Springhill and Westrock community as ‘IRA supporters’ up to now.

The inquest also heard that several military witnesses have engaged with the coroner’s office and that the process was ongoing for them to provide statements. Thirty military witnesses had been contacted but only twelve have come forward.