JOINT PRESS RELEASE
HARTE COYLE COLLINS SOLICITORS & ADVOCATES & RELATIVES FOR JUSTICE
ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NORTHERN IRELAND GRANTS FRESH INQUEST INTO THE DEATH OF THOMAS BURNS SHOT BY BRITISH ARMY ON 13th JULY 1972 IN BELFAST
ISSUED 31ST MARCH 2023
On the 30th March 2023 the Attorney General for Northern Ireland directed a fresh inquest into the fatal shooting of Thomas Aquinas Burns by the British army on the 13th July 1972 outside the Glen Park Social Club in North Belfast. Responsibility for the fatal shooting of Mr Burns is not disputed by the Ministry of Defence.
Thomas Burns was an innocent victim who was neither armed nor a member of any paramilitary organisation. Mr Burns was an ex-serviceman who had served in the British Navy for 10 years. Having served abroad in Malta and Singapore he had returned home in 1965 to live in Belfast with his wife and young children. When he was killed in July 1972 Mr Burns left behind his widow Kathleen Burns and 4 young children Stephen (11), Patricia (6), John (4) and Martin (3). Mrs Kathleen Burns continued to campaign for information into the circumstances of her husband’s killing up to her death in 2007.
His daughter Patricia Burns applied to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland for a fresh inquest into her father’s shooting on 8th October 2015 relying on new evidence provided by ex-soldiers to the Historical Enquiries Team. That new evidence undermined the reliability of the military statements of evidence submitted to the original inquest. The original inquest which took place on 3rd April 1973 had erroneously concluded a verdict of misadventure.
The previous Attorney General for Northern Ireland John Larkin QC refused a fresh inquest on 7th June 2019 despite accepting that the original inquest verdict of misadventure was wrong in fact and in law.
That decision by the Attorney General was the subject of a judicial review challenge before Mr Justice Humphreys at the High Court in Belfast. Judgement was delivered just over a year ago on the 11th of March 2022. That challenge was successful, and the case was sent back by the court to the current Attorney General, Brenda King for reconsideration.
Yesterday the Attorney General directed that a fresh inquest should now be held into the fatal shooting of Thomas Burns. In a letter to the lawyers for Ms Burns the Attorney General set out 5 reasons for her decision including;
(1) the fresh military evidence uncovered by the HET investigators,
(2) new evidence in the form of a civilian witness statement obtained by lawyers for Ms Burns,
(3) the faulty verdict of misadventure from the original inquest which the Attorney accepted was wrong in fact and in law,
(4) the flaws identified in the High Court judgement of Mr Justice Humphreys in the draft HET Report, and,
(5) the content and form of the military evidence which was available to the original 1973 inquest – written witness statements only without the compellability of the military witnesses before the Coroners Court for questioning and cross examination.
Patricia Burns said today;
“On behalf of my family I would like to thank both the Attorney General and Mr Justice Humphreys of the High Court for their further reconsideration of my application for a fresh inquest into the shooting of my daddy. This inquest means so much to us. The army killed an innocent man for no reason and deprived me and my brothers of our father at a very young age. I wish my mum Kathleen were here to see this fresh inquest. This is a big step towards justice and justice starts with information. We remain hopeful of state accountability for our father’s killing.”
Patricia Coyle of Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Advocates acting for Ms Burns said today;
“Our clients very much welcome the direction for a fresh inquest into the state killing of their father issued by the Attorney General yesterday. They look forward to the inquest opening in the Coroners Court as soon as possible and they are intent on continuing their indefatigable campaign for justice for their father.”
Mike Ritchie of Relatives for Justice said today;
“Relatives for Justice are delighted with the decision by the Attorney General Ms King to direct a fresh inquest into the army’s fatal shooting of Thomas Burns. We have supported the family for many years and are aware of the dignity with which they have pursued justice. It is disgraceful that the current Tory government is attempting to cut off routes to justice for victims and their families in Northern Ireland.”