By Caseworker Paul Butler
There was another review of the Springhill/Westrock inquest this morning. The families’ legal teams, counsel for the PSNI, and MoD counsel, were all asked by the coroner, Mr. Justice Schofield, to agree dates so that the inquest can resume. Mr. Justice Schofield expressed his concerns about the ‘hard cut off point’ of 1stMay 2024 and his fears about not being able to complete the inquest. He said that unless there are firm dates set today the inquest runs the danger of not being finished before the May deadline. The inquest also heard that there are now at least 13 military witnesses who have come forward and whose evidence will be heard during the inquest proceedings in 2024.
At this morning’s review Justice Schofield set down firm dates for the inquest to proceed. After discussions with the various counsel taking part in the inquest it is set to resume on November 6. This will allow the remaining civilian witnesses to give their evidence during that month. The inquest will then begin in the new year on the 23rdJanuary 2024 and finish before the legislative deadline – imposed in amendments earlier this year by the British government in order to shut down inquests. It was also revealed that military witnesses who have engaged with the coroner’s office will begin giving their evidence to the inquest at the start of the inquest in January 2024.
Mr. Justice Schofield also set a firm date for the PII (Public Interest Immunity) hearing in relation to the PSNI sensitive material and documents. PII is a rule of the law of evidence under which documents may be withheld from parties to legal proceedings when the State claims such disclosure would be injurious to the public interest. Otherwise known as ‘gagging orders’ to supress evidence their use has been widespread in the North. This has been an issue that has dragged on throughout the inquest with the PSNI not providing the material requested by the coroner. After listening to the counsel for the PSNI, Peter Coll, told the inquest that the PSNI were still not in a position to provide the material. Mr. Justice Schofield said he is setting the date for the PII hearing for Friday 15th December 2023 regardless of whether the PSNI provide the material or not.
The inquest will be up for review again on Friday 20th October 2023.