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11 October 2007 Edition

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Orde thwarts shoot-to-kill inquest

BY LAURA FRIEL

The longest running inquest in British legal history stalled again this week with the Coroner forced to adjourn after PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde refused to hand over vital evidence to the court.
Presiding senior coroner John Leckey reopened inquests of six men who were shot dead by an undercover RUC unit in Armagh 1982. But the preliminary hearing was adjourned after legal challenges by lawyers acting on behalf of the PSNI Chief Constable.
Lawyers challenged the right of the coroner to proceed with the inquest, challenged the right of the defence to full disclosure of ‘shoot-to-kill’ investigations and challenged the right of the Coroner access to the Stalker/Sampson report.
The coroner warned Orde’s team that he would seek to compel full disclosure if the PSNI chief constable refused. Leckey said he saw no reason why Hugh Orde could not provide him with the Stalker/Sampson report.
In 1994 Leckey abandoned inquests into the six killings after he was denied access to the Stalker/Sampson documents by the then RUC Chief Constable Hugh Annesley. But in light of a recent High Court ruling on another “shoot-to-kill” death, the coroner said he could see “no reason why I should not now be provided with access to both reports”.
Barrister Bernard McCluskey said, “The Chief Constable has not yet made a decision about the need for disclosure”. The barrister said “an investigation of the repercussions of disclosure” was being undertaken.
Disclosure of the known facts rests, not with those tasked with determining the circumstances but with the head of the PSNI, an organisation that has within its ranks the bulk of the RUC – the organisation responsible for the killings. More shocking still, Orde will take the decision with regard to possible “repercussions”. It’s like saying, if we think we can get away with it, we’ll let you see the evidence.
Sean Burns, Eugene Toman and Gervaise McKerr were killed near Lurgan in 1982 when a special unit of the RUC fired 109 bullets into their car. All three men were unarmed and initial claims that the vehicle drove through a checkpoint were discredited.  
Two weeks later 17-year-old Michael Tighe was shot dead and a second man seriously injured at a hayshed near his home outside Craigavon. It later emerged that the shed had been bugged by MI5 but a secret recording of the killing subsequently went ‘missing’.
Less than three weeks later RUC officers opened fire on a car carrying INLA men Roddy Carroll and Seamus Grew. It later emerged that the men had been under surveillance throughout the day of the killing.
Public outcry at the killings forced the appointment of British deputy chief constable John Stalker to investigate the killings. It was assumed that Stalker would simply review the initial RUC ‘investigation’ but when Stalker began to re investigate the killings for himself he began to unearth uncomfortable truths.
When he discovered one of the incidents had been secretly taped by MI5 and demanded access to the recording, Stalker was dismissed from the investigation, ordered to return to England to face trumped up allegations of which he was later completely exonerated.
The ‘shoot-to-kill’ investigation was wound up by another British policemen, Colin Sampson but despite repeated legal attempts to force the British government to publish the report, it remains shrouded in secrecy.
A truncated report, released by Patrick Mayhew, the then British Attorney General and later NIO Direct Ruler, conceded that there was evidence of attempts to pervert the course of justice but there would be no prosecution of RUC officers on the grounds of British national security.
Three RUC men were charged with the murder of the IRA men but acquitted by a non-jury Diplock court. Presiding Judge Gibson’s justification of the RUC’s summary execution of the three unarmed Volunteers sparked outrage amongst civil liberty groups.
Gibson commended the “courage and determination” of the RUC gunmen in “bringing the three deceased men to justice, in this case, the final court of justice”. Gibson was later executed by the IRA.
When the inquest opened in 1988 it immediately ran into difficulties with five different coroners appointed at various stages. The British slapped national security and public immunity certificates on the proceedings.
A decision of a coroner to allow the RUC to submit written evidence without appearing before the court was successfully challenge by Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane but shortly before the British government announced its decision to challenge the High Court ruling, Finucane was shot dead.
In an opening statement this week, coroner Leckey said he planned to hold inquests into the six killings back to back in 2009 and he had set aside the entire year. The coroner said it would not be possible to undertake all the preparatory work alone and he would be setting up a team of senior and junior council as well as advisors with policing experience outside the north and support staff.
Outside the court Gervaise McKerr’s son Jonathan called on the PSNI chief to finally allow the coroner access to the shoot-to-kill reports.  “Hugh Orde now has the opportunity to show that he is prepared to allow policing to be open and transparent. Mr. Leckey has asked for the Stalker/Sampson report and there is no reason why he shouldn’t have them,” said Jonathan McKerr.
Meanwhile a preliminary hearing into the killing of another unarmed IRA Volunteer Pearse Jordon by an undercover RUC unit in 1992 was adjourned until February next year. Jordon was shot dead after his car was rammed by the RUC on the Falls Road. The adjournment would allow the assessment of Public Immunity Certificated issued by the then British Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew and British Defence Minister Malcolm Rifkind in the 1990’s.
The court was also told that the RUC officer responsible for the killing could not be found. Leckey was told the officer who fired the fatal shots was believed to be living and working abroad. Commenting Jordon’s father, Hugh said he found it difficult to believe the PSNI  could not find his son’s killer. “Is the PSNI saying that this man is not receiving a police pension?”
In his book Stalker described Michael Tighe as a good and considerate son who lived quietly at home. “The human questions remain. Perhaps one day Mr and Mrs Tighe, whose son’s death was a bewildering tragedy for them, will learn exactly how and why their 17-year-old son died in a hail of police bullets”. After this week’s inquest hearing we could add, but only if Hugh Orde says so.
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