Up-date reports from Coroners Court Belfast

Thursday 17th September 2009

Preliminary inquest hearings into the murder of 76 year-old Roseanne Mallon, murdered by the UVF in an attack on her home on the outskirts of Dungannon Co Tyrone in May 1994 and which also left Mrs. Bridget Mallon wounded, and the death of US citizen John Hemsworth who died several months after beingviolently assaulted by the RUC while making his way home from a GAA club in West Belfast in July 1997, were heard yesterday at Belfast’s Coroners court late afternoon.

Earlier in the morning a pre-inquest hearing into the murders of six unarmed men, Gervaise McKerr, Eugene Toman and Sean Burns in November 1982, that of Michael Tighe in November 1982, in which the wounding of Martin McAuley also occurred, and of Roddy Carroll and Seamus Grew in December 1982 – all in North Armagh – was also heard.

Relatives for Justice attended the hearings as they are supporting the families.

These six killings, listed above, were all carried out by an RUC specialist unit trained by the SAS and under the direct command of the then RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon, his deputy chief Michael McAntamney, and the then RUC Special Branch boss Trevor Forbes. The incident involving the killing of Michael Tighe, and the wounding of Martin McAuley, was secretly recorded by bugging devices planted near a hayshed in the field where the shooting took place. MI5, at the request of RUC Special Branch, planted the bugging devices. The hayshed had been used by republicans and was under surveillance.

The killings immediately led to domestic and international condemnation that leveled the allegation of a shoot-to-kill policy being operated by the British government via the RUC. Known as the shoot-to-kill incidents the British government’s position of not facilitating a proper examination of the killings became untenable and led to their appointing of John Stalker.

Stalker, who at the time was a deputy police chief from England, attempted to conduct an effective and thorough examination of the killings but was obstructed and prevented from doing so from the outset by the RUC including its then chief Sir John Hermon. Stalker was removed from the investigation on the eve of him about to question Hermon under police caution. He was replaced by Colin Sampson, also an English police deputy chief, who completed the report. Allegations concerning the private life of John Stalker, that were used to remove him, were later proved to be completely bogus.

The report has never been made public. Before Stalker’s removal he recommended that a number of RUC officers, involved in the murders of Seamus Grew and Roddy Carroll, be prosecuted for the shootings and perverting the course of justice.

After the report’s completion charges were taken by the DPP however the trial was suspended when RUC officers admitted in court of being instructed by senior RUC officers to fabricate and lie concerning the shootings – namely that, in two of the incidents, there were roadblocks and that cars in which the men had been travelling in drove through these injuring officers, and that it was only then that they fired. They further said that they inflicted injuries on officers consistent with the lies concerning the cars crashing through roadblocks, that never existed.

The judge, Justice Gibson, condemned the DPP and those who had prompted the charges. adding that these men, the deceased, had been ‘sent to their final court of justice.’

In 1988 the then British Attorney General, Sir Patrick Mayhew MP, told the British Parliament that no charges would be taken forward concerning the matter citing ‘that it was not in the public interest.’ As a result the matter was referred to an inquest which usually rubber stamped these matters. However, lawyer Pat Finucane had been legally challenging the killings and the Coroners office to make available the Stalker/Sampson report as part of the inquest hearing prior to his murder, which the Coroner sought to do unsuccessfully due to the refusal by John Hermon, and his predecessors, as the report was placed within police possession. It was only after exhaustive legal battles by the families to Europe and the House of Lords that paved the way for the Coroner to seek  to concluded inquests and thus seek the report.

Hugh Orde, the previous PSNI chief, continually refused to hand over the report to the Coroner, Mr. John Leckey; yesterday Mr. Leckey gave the incoming PSNI chief, Matt Baggott. Six weeks in which to provide a copy of the report. Redactions will undoubtedly be made.

In the case of the RUC killing of Pearse Jordan PSNI redactions rendered the material disclosed unintelligible. This inquest too has been tactically delayed with the Jordan family attending court hearings approximately 130 times.

In the Case of Roseanne Mallon the inquest was again adjourned – this is the 25th attempt to hold an inquest into the killing. The background of the killing is that the RUC and British army continually harassed the family – Martin Mallon was detained by RUC Special Branch at a roadside and held there until Billy Wright arrived with another known loyalist. After chatting causally with RUC Special Branch members they then issued a threat to kill Martin’s wife.

The attack that claimed Roseanne’s life, and which injured Bridget, happened 3 weeks after the threats were issued by Wright. Subsequent to the killing a covert British army unit was discovered on ground belonging to the Mallon’s observing their home where the attack occurred. After a civil case, against the British MoD for trespass and collusion with the killers, it was revealed, in the discovery of documents as part of the civil action, that the covert soldiers were ordered not to intervene when they reported suspicious men at the Mallon home. They were told not to react. On hearing gunfire at the home they were again told not to react. These soldiers also stated that they were ordered to switch off cameras that had been transmitting televised footage of their surveillance operation on the Mallon home back to Mahon Barracks in Portadown.

The PSNI and the British MoD are now conscious that they have provided material to the Mallon’s lawyers which they have not registered as being given to the family – these disclosures were made during the civil action by various departments and agencies and includes the statements made by the covert British soldiers who observed the killing yet were ordered not to react. The Mallon family is asking for full discovery as there is significantly more material than was initially disclosed almost a decade ago. The state unsure of what may arise during any inquest are seeking the Mallon family to tell them precisely what disclosures they already have instead of providing full disclosure. This indicates that the state seeks to prevent material from emerging and are therefore reluctant to proceed with the inquest on the basis that they could be caught out if they claim that they have handed over all the material and key documents then arise by lawyers acting for the Mallon family.

The Coroner, Mr. Justice Weir, also invited the prospect of the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) conducting inquiries but this was rejected by the Mallon family who had been alerted to the use of the HET on Monday during the inquest into the SAS killings of Martin McCaughey and Dessie Grew ( a brother of Seamus Grew killed by the RUC in November 1982) as a further stalling mechanism.

Speaking afterwards Martin Mallon, Nephew of Roseanne, said; ‘We have waited almost fifteen years for an inquest. The stalling and prevarication must stop now. The state must fully disclose all the relevant material concerning the attack on our home and the murder of Roseanne and cease playing games – this is about the murder of a 67 year-old pensioner in which the state literally stood by and watched as her killers attacked our home. The reason they did this is because they armed and directed the killers to our home. We want the full truth about what happened, who ordered it and covered it up afterwards.’

In the case of John Hemsworth – a US citizen who married and settled in Belfast – the court heard yesterday afternoon that 5 key police witnesses were unable to attend. In July 1997 John Hemsworth was making his way home from St Galls GAA Club on the Falls Rd to his nearby home in the Clonard area of West Belfast. As he reached Malcolmson St he was set upon by an RUC riot squad and severely beaten. John suffered a broken jaw, head injuries and lacerations. He was left unconscious.

On New Years Eve of that same year John was admitted to hospital with severe head pains and died on January 1st 1998 from a brain hemorrhage. John had already initiated legal proceedings against the RUC for assault. Relatives for Justice contacted Amnesty International and were directed to an independent pathologist who, in his professional opinion, attributed the cause of death to the RUC assault – essentially stating that a nerve in the brain had been damaged due to the injuries sustained and that this had a delayed reaction in triggering the hemorrhage.

After presenting this information to the British Attorney General the family won the right to have an inquest into John’s death. Fifteen witnesses, former members of the RUC and now serving members of the PSNI who were present that evening in the area, are to be called. Five have submitted ‘sick notes’ citing that they are unable to give evidence.

Coroner, Mr. Brian Sherrard, said that ‘sick notes were coming in thick and fast’ – lawyers for the family sought to ascertain the validity of the ‘sick notes’ but this was rejected by the Coroner. The case is listed to open on Monday.

Afterwards the John’s widow, Collette Hemsworth, asked; ‘How satisfied is the Coroner as to the overall validity of these ‘sick notes’, what is the period of time that they cover, and can either the Coroner, or our legal team, seek a separate independent medical prognosis concerning the ability of these people to give evidence?

‘We view the issuing of ‘sick notes’ an attempt to thwart a proper examination of John’s death. This needs to stop and those members of the RUC and PSNI who were present the evening John was beaten must be accountable before the court otherwise it will become a farce.’

Anyone seeking further information can contact Relatives for Justice