Sam Marshall Inquest in jeopardy

The PSNI’s failure to disclose sensitive information has successfully delayed the inquest into the death of Sam Marshall, a Lurgan man assassinated outside the Lurgan RUC Station by the UVF and UFF/UDA on the 7th of March 1990. The two other targets of the attack – Tony McCaughey and Colin Duffy – survived and were both granted Properly Interested Person (PIP) status, which entitles them to legal representation in the inquest.

The three men had been targets of covert intelligence operations leading up to the attack, a matter raised in the British House of Commons shortly after the murder.

On Tuesday, the 14th of November, Judge Philip Gilpin, presiding coroner for the case, convened a case management hearing. The hearing opened with the coroner’s counsel, Mr Frank O’Donoghue KC, informing the court that, just before the hearing, the PSNI and MoD had disclosed to him an issue that would almost certainly delay the inquest’s proceedings. Describing the ‘unusual situation,’ Mr O’Donoghue explained that the matter, which was of such a sensitive nature that it could not even be hinted at in open proceedings, could be explained to the coroner in closed hearings and submissions. The coroner scheduled two closed hearings, which would then open to the public. Before the hearing closed, Judge Gilpin stated that his original intention for the hearing was to press the MoD and PSNI on the timeline to ensure the inquest is completed by the May 1st, 2024, deadline imposed by the British Government’s Legacy Bill.

The hearing was held Monday, the 20th of November, and the second was yesterday, the 22nd of November. The closed hearings discussed the details of the secret matter, while the open hearings would provide case management updates to maintain transparency where possible. Although Mr O’Donoghue acknowledged the importance of open hearings to maintain the legitimacy of the inquest, the PSNI and MoD’s actions have already jettisoned the inquest’s integrity.

Throughout the past week, legal representatives for Sam Marshall’s family and Mr McCaughey and Mr Duffy have made their displeasure known. They noted that the PSNI and MoD had numerous opportunities to raise the issue in previous submissions – some received only the day before the hearing – but failed to do so. One lawyer noted that by concealing the issue until the day of a hearing which would likely have set a timetable for the rest of the inquest, PSNI and MoD seemed to be employing a devious delay tactic to block the inquest’s timely completion.

In the final hearing of this sequence, Judge Gilpin announced that national security concerns arising from the recently raised issue will significantly delay the legal proceedings. Although redacted briefs are being provided to the Marshall family, the matter is of such sensitivity that it cannot be disclosed to the public. The issue will delay the proceedings so significantly that the inquest’s completion is in serious jeopardy, and a December hearing will consider the inquest’s viability. Through their calculated concealment and dubious methods, the PSNI and MoD may have successfully obstructed the inquest.

It seems that they have adopted similar strategies across several ongoing inquests. In the inquest into GAA official Sean Brown’s death, being held simultaneously, the PSNI is refusing to disclose intelligence information.

With inquests already racing to finish by the May 1st guillotine date, this is a clear strategy by the representatives of the PSNI and MoD to deny families access to due process through the inquests.