26 April 2024

UVF victims’ families accuse Government of ‘disgraceful’ attempt to stop justice

26 April 2024

Families of four loyalist murder victims have accused the Government of a “disgraceful attempt to stop justice being done” for threatening a legal challenge to a ruling at their inquests.

It came after a coroner said that he had been “prevented” from delivering a summary of intelligence information around the deaths of four people killed in two loyalist attacks in Co Tyrone in 1992 after Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris objected to it being delivered in open court.

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.

On Friday Judge Richard Greene KC 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.

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

The 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”.

Gavin Booth, solicitor for the Fox and McKearney families, accused Mr Heaton-Harris of “intercepting” the coroner’s ruling on the Government’s bid to withhold sensitive material from the inquest.

“We say that material involves state agents working for, employed by, and assisted by the state in these murders and the murders of many other people in the mid-Ulster area in the 1990s,” he said outside court.

“This is a disgraceful attempt by the Secretary of State to stop justice being done and being seen to be done.

“Today the coroner endorsed the fact that these inquests need to be a public inquiry. He said that he cannot continue with the inquest due to what has been disclosed by the state parties in this inquest.

“But rather than accepting that and endorsing the families’ calls for a public inquiry, the Secretary of State has now told the families that he will take them to court like every other family. This is a disgraceful attempt to divert justice for families. It’s absolutely disgusting.

“We plan now to lodge urgent court proceedings in the High Court in Belfast to get the ruling in full for the families so that they can finally get the information that proves that there was collusion in these murders.”

Mr Booth said the Government should hang its head in shame.

“The Secretary of State has been called in several inquests now to initiate public inquiries for families bereaved through collusion,” he said.

This is an absolute disgrace and the Secretary of State and his government should hang their head in shame

“This is another attempt by the Secretary of State to show the utmost disrespect to families by not only denying them public inquiries, but by trying to take legal action against bereaved families in this country to stop them getting access to the truth, the truth that the British state is hiding, the truth that their agents were involved in these murders, the truth that they didn’t prosecute them, the truth they supplied them with weapons, they supplied them with intelligence, and they allowed them to carry out killings with impunity.

“This is an absolute disgrace and the Secretary of State and his government should hang their head in shame.”

Kevin McKearney’s brother, Tommy, said the families were “outraged” and “disgusted”.

“Once again the British state has refused to open itself to scrutiny,” he said outside court in Belfast.

“There’s been multiple incidents of state agents being involved in collusion. And I’m at the stage now refusing to even use the word collusion, because I am suggesting very strongly that what we’re looking at here is participation by the British state in this outrageous round of murders.

“I think we’ve got to call for a public inquiry and I endorse the statement by the judge for a public inquiry.”

Commenting on the Government’s threatened legal action, he added: “I can only conclude it’s because of the involvement of state agents in not only this case, but several other cases – numerous cases, countless cases where the British state has been involved, British state agents have been involved.”

In a statement, a UK Government spokesperson said: “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will give careful consideration to the coroner’s ruling when it is delivered and to related correspondence when it is received.”

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