26 April 2024

Coroner ‘prevented’ from delivering ruling on UVF deaths by Government challenge

26 April 2024

A coroner said that he has been prevented from delivering a “narrative” around the events surrounding of the murder of four people killed in two loyalist attacks in Co Tyrone in 1992 following a legal challenge from the Government to it being delivered in open court.

Judge Richard Greene KC also said he had reached a provisional view that an inquest into the four deaths cannot proceed because of the withholding of sensitive files from the proceedings on national security grounds.

Kevin McKearney, 32, was shot dead by a UVF gunman inside his family-run butcher shop in the village of Moy, Co Tyrone, in January 1992. His uncle Jack McKearney, 69, was wounded in the same attack and died in hospital three months later.

Later that year, Kevin McKearney’s mother-in-law and father-in-law, Charlie and Tess Fox – who were 63 and 54 respectively – were shot dead by the UVF inside their home in Moy.

The coroner said there had been “rumours and suspicion of state collusion for some time”.

The long-delayed inquests into the four deaths opened last year, but were then paused while a lengthy public interest immunity (PII) process took place over the disclosure of sensitive security force material.

Mr Greene said he had planned to provide a “short narrative or gist” as part of his PII ruling at Laganside Courthouse on Friday.

But he added: “A significant intervening event has occurred which prevents me from delivering my ruling this afternoon.

“The proposed gist is not accepted by the Security Service and the Northern Ireland Office, who object to its release in open (court).”

My provisional view is that I cannot continue with these inquests

He added: “I wanted to deliver the open PII ruling today but as there has been objection from some of the state parties to me providing the narrative or gist to you, I am not going to hand it down to allow for a challenge to be taken to my proposed approach.”

The coroner said he had reached a provisional view that his inquiry into the deaths is “seriously compromised because relevant information on issues central to the scope of the inquest cannot be disclosed”.

He added: “As a result, my provisional view is that I cannot continue with these inquests.”

The coroner said he believed a public inquiry was now the “appropriate way to consider the full circumstances of these deaths”.

He said: “That is because in such a forum the closed material can be considered by the inquiry panel.”

The McKearney and Fox families reacted angrily to the development and said they would be launching their own counter legal challenges against the Government.

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