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9 October 2003 Edition

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Coroner will go to High Court - PSNI and MoD refuse to release inquest evidence

The PSNI and the Ministry of Defence are in contempt of court after they failed to comply with a coroner's ruling to provide unedited material and videotape evidence linked to the SAS and loyalist killings of ten people in Tyrone.

Both the PSNI and MoD are now facing High Court action.

The deadline to hand over the papers passed at the hearing in Dungannon Coroner's Court on Tuesday 7 October with no documents submitted.

The MoD and PSNI have argued at previous hearings that the documents must be censored because, they say, some of the material is sensitive.

At the last preliminary hearing on 16 September, Coroner Roger McLernon ordered the PSNI and MoD to produce all intelligence documents relevant to the killings within 21 days so the inquests of Roseanne Mallon, Jack and Kevin McKearney and of seven IRA Volunteers shot dead by the SAS in County Tyrone in the early 1990s can go ahead.

McLernon said he stood by his ruling that censored papers he received from the British security forces were relevant to the inquests and said he would go to the High Court to obtain the complete versions.

He told the 13th preliminary hearing of the inquests that he would either apply for a subpoena to have the documents produced or seek a judicial review of the decision to withhold them.

In his deliberations, McLernon went to lengths to explain to the families the legal positions, particularly in light of the Human Rights Act and the recent European Court rulings with regard to Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. He stressed that cases such as those before him are of a complex and controversial nature.

The coroner said that high profile cases in England such as the death of British government scientist Dr David Kelly and black teenager Stephen Lawrence had prompted public inquiries.

"Here in the North that has not been policy and what has happened is that the coroner's court has been left to struggle with these matters with outdated legislation," he said. "There is no clarity at the present time on what the proper objectives of an inquest should be and that is a question that needs to be addressed urgently".

McLernon adjourned the hearing until 27 October.

Roisín Uí Mhuirí, the sister of Volunteer Kevin Barry O'Donnell, shot dead by the SAS at Clonoe, said that the families were very disappointed at the refusal of the PSNI and MoD to hand over the documents.

"They were ordered by the coroner to provide those documents in an unedited form but they refused to do it," she said. "We hope the coroner will apply for a judicial review to get the proper inquests into the deaths of our loved ones. The refusal of the PSNI and the MoD to hand over the documents confirms to us that they have something to hide."

Uí Mhuirí said a subpoena would be useless, as the families were still unsure exactly which documents the British Crown forces possess.

Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew said the British Crown forces had shown contempt for the court and the families.

"More than ten years after these deaths, the PSNI and the MoD are continuing to drag these families back to court time and time again, when they have no intention of telling them what happened to their loved ones," said the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP.

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