Review of legacy inquests

Justice Michael Humphries

Presiding coroner, Mr. Justice Michael Humphreys, has conducted a review of legacy inquests to see how they are progressing with a view, in particular, to decide which ones will take place in Year 3 of the previous Lord Chief Justice’s five-year plan to see all legacy inquests brought to a conclusion. Year 3 is expected to begin from Easter 2023. After this review, he expects to issue the Year 3 list in “the next couple of weeks”. This will then allow for coroners to be appointed to each case, and they will then be responsible for case-management leading over the next year. A number of general issues are worth recording before going into the specific issues relating to each case.

As far as courts are concerned, there is nothing to suggest the UK Government’s legacy proposals for a statute of limitations will stop these inquests. Legislation has not been passed yet and Humphreys J. implied the inquests under management review will go ahead in due course. Nevertheless, he was keen to speed up progress in light of the government’s stated plans.

Thematic links might be considered in this regard. For instance, Justice Humphreys agreed the Kevin and John McKearney and Charles and Theresa Fox cases should be allocated to the same coroner and they could both be carried out under the same management. This has already happened in respect of the Gerard Slane and Terence McDaid cases too.

Humphreys J. asked everyone if they had preferences as to the level of judge that should be appointed (Coroner, County or High Court Judge), location and duration expected. He noted preferences when representatives had them – for instance, it was suggested the most complex cases such as the Clonoe case and the joint Gerard Slane/Terence McDaid inquest would be better managed by a High Court judge.

The MoD/PSNI’s excuse for lack of disclosure was that they are using all their resources to “efficiently prioritise” listed inquests rather than offering a “piecemeal approach” to families. They are say they are not resistant to disclosure (despite all evidence to the contrary in terms of delay and procedural complication; the case-by-case review tells the real story).

Most representatives for the next-of-kin urged the coroner to bring forward a timetable so that the cases can be heard as soon as possible; some of them mentioned the NIO proposals as a matter of concern for families. The legal representatives for the ‘potential military operations inquests’ also urged the parties to progress and guarantee the identification of British soldiers involved in the killings, something with which Justice Humphreys agreed.

Banbridge Court House is completely dedicated to inquests and is therefore most easily available. However, Humphreys J. wished to be flexible where particular family issues may be raised.

Apart from that, there was little information regarding each case:

  • Kevin and John McKearney + Charles and Theresa Fox: Due to factual and legal connections between these and other cases, Justice Humphreys agreed they should be managed by the same coroner. Ongoing civil cases will be taken into consideration regarding disclosure. Closed Material Proceedings (essentially secret courts) are a matter of concern for the families. Coroner might organise a hearing in the future regarding discovery from civil cases. The Police Ombudsman will start investigations into the mid-Ulster UVF, in the second half of the conflict, which carried out these and many other murders (Operation Ashton) around March 2023. Notwithstanding that limited material has so far been gathered, families wish the inquest to go ahead as soon as possible.
  • Richard Jameson: With solicitor Richard Monteith representing the family, Robinson the PSNI and McManus OPONI, this hearing was short and focused on the family’s rights being failed by lack of direction from the PPS, which had received a file from PONI a full eight years previously. The family solicitor criticised lack of progress in the case. The parties reconvened on 1 March after contacting the PPS to clarify the state of affairs.
  • Patrick Duffy: There was strong criticism at the lack of disclosure from, communication with and identification of British soldiers from the Ministry of Defence. However, it is a fairly contained incident with straightforward issues which is likely to be prioritised.
  • Francis Bradley: An SAS shooting, the case seems to be well-advanced and should be listed as soon as possible. The family requested a High Court judge.
  • Alexander Patterson: This was one of the few cases in which there has been progress regarding disclosure; the case is quite advanced. It was also suggested that, because this incident occurred in 1997, tracing British soldiers should be easy enough. The original inquest appears to have been unfinished, so Humphreys J. will try to push this case forward.
  • Patrick Vincent, Peter Clancy, Kevin O’Donnell, Kevin O’Donnell: A set piece SAS ambush at Clonoe, and therefore disclosure, communication and witness identification are a problem; as in many other such cases, the State is willing to hinder the truth from emerging. Families requested the inquest to be listed in Year 3, and to be held in Dungannon. The coroner cannot guarantee this, but he will try. It seems clear that the case should be under the management of a High Court judge, and it is expected to last 5 or 6 weeks.
  • Gerard Slane and Terence McDaid: Given that these cases have already been examined in the Stevens, Cory and De Silva inquiries, it should have been straightforward to have organised the collection of material to process disclosure, yet the families feel tight case management is required given the nature of state involvement in the background to these deaths (FRU, Brian Nelson and so on). It is a complex case and will require a high court judge to manage it satisfactorily. The duration of the case is likely to be substantial.
  • Elizabeth McDonald and John McGleenan: This is a Glenanne Gang case (Mid-Ulster UVF, first half of the conflict). There is an ongoing Police Ombudsman investigation (Operation Newham) for which a “substantial amount of information” has been gathered. There is also overlap with Operation Kenova, and links to at least 120 deaths. The issue of scope (what range of issues the inquest will examine) is one which will require close consideration.
  • Gerard Lawlor: The inquest opened in 2007 but did not conclude. The ombudsman has completed her investigation and hopes to publish a public statement on the case by autumn, later this year. Gerard’s family believe it will require three to four weeks to address all related matters.
  • Joseph Campbell: The RUC man was murdered 45 years ago. There are no outstanding investigations. Suggestions that the Glenanne ang were involved in his murder have no basis in fact and therefore Operation Kenova should not hold it up. Despite two police investigations, an inquest and a Police Ombudsman, no one in authority has yet been able to tell the victim’s widow who it was who killed her husband. The family want a high court judge to hear the evidence and believe it will require four weeks.
  • Raymond McCord: the danger here according to the PSNI is scope. There is capacity for this to be an examination of the whole of the Mount Vernon UVF and therefore timing and scope will have to be managed carefully. Given that there has been considerable examination of this unit by the Police Ombudsman already, this will have to be taken into consideration. At this stage it was felt that it is too soon to be able to estimate duration and disclosure is not advanced sufficiently. The sense was that this case may be unlikely to be heard, therefore in Year 3. However, it is likely a case for a high court judge.
  • Liam Thompson: He was murdered by the UDA in 1994. There has been no inquest. The material involved in “not voluminous”, and it is a “fairly contained incident”. However, there were 53 witnesses on a draft witness-list. An estimate of two to three weeks was suggested.
  • Kevin McAlorum: There are twenty-four folders of non-sensitive materials which require redactions for Article 2. A further 8 folders of sensitive material are “to be progressed”. The family feel that there are unable to estimate duration and tier (judicial seniority) until more of the material has been made available.
  • Craig McCausland and Robert Mahood, John Coulter, and Robert Moffet: These three cases will be looked at together as they form part of PONI’s Operation Cashmere.  The representative for PONI said that the investigation was at an advanced stage and it was hoped it would be complete before the end of 2022.
  • Daniel Rooney and Patrick McVeigh: These two cases will be looked at together as they are part of an investigation into the activities of the MRF. There has been an extensive investigation by the PSNI/LIB into the MRF and the file is with the PPS at present. There has been no decision by the PPS to date as to whether there will be prosecutions. The Presiding Coroner stated that there will either be an inquest or prosecutions in the case.
  • Gerard Casey: This case formed part of OPONI’s Operation Greenwich investigation into the UDA/UFF in Counties Derry and Antrim.  There was a belief that the case could be progressed more quickly than other cases given there is a considerable volume of material produced by the Police Ombudsman as part of their investigation.  It was stated that given the issues of collusion in the case a High Court judge would need to preside over the case.
  • New Lodge 6, James Sloan, James McCann, Anthony Campbell, Brendan Maguire, John Loughran and Ambrose Hardy: This was the first hearing in the inquest which had only been ordered last year by the AG. Very little preparation has taken place. Legal representation is as follows: for the Sloan family, Hugh Southey and Nick Scott, instructed by KRW Law; for McCann, Karen Quinlivan and Aidan McGowan, instructed by Harte Coyle Collins; for the Campbell family, Barra McGrory and Eugene McKenna, instructed by KRW Law; For the Loughran family, Fiona Doherty and Malachi McGowan, instructed by O Muirigh, Solicitors; for the Hardy family, Mark Bassett, instructed by KRW Law; there was no representation for the for the Maguire family. The MoD was represented by John Rafferty. If the case is not listed for year 3, it will be listed in year 4 or 5.

The Coroner has released a statement regarding the above which can be read here Press Release – Legacy Inquests -Year 3 Listings