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6 December 2007 Edition

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Coroner granted access to Stalker/Sampson reports

IRA Volunteers Eugene Toman, Seán Burns and Gervaise McKerr

IRA Volunteers Eugene Toman, Seán Burns and Gervaise McKerr

BY
LAURA FRIEL

Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd has welcomed the decision of the PSNI to give the Coroner in the North, John Lecky, access to the Stalker/Sampson Report  into the shoot-to-kill deaths of six unarmed men in the North Armagh area in 1982.
A legal battle over shoot-to-kill cases has been fought for years and the families have taken the issue to the European Court of Human Rights and the British House of Lords. An inquest was opened briefly in 1983 but in 1994 Leckey abandoned the cases after the RUC refused to release the documents.
IRA Volunteers Eugene Toman, Seán Burns and Gervaise McKerr were shot dead in November 1982. Teenager Michael Tighe was shot dead weeks later, and INLA members Roderick Carroll and Seamus Grew were shot and killed a month later, in December. The killings became the focus of a shoot-to-kill investigation by British police officers John Stalker and Colin Sampson.
John O’Dowd said that the decision of the PSNI to give the Coroner access to  the Stalker/Sampson Report into the shoot-to-kill deaths is “an important step forward for the families”.
But while the PSNI has been compelled by earlier legal rulings to allow the North’s senior coroner access to what the British still regard as “top secret” and “classified” material, this does not mean the reports will be made public. On the contrary, lawyers acting for the PSNI at the preliminary inquest hearing insisted that while Coroner Leckey would be given full access to the reports it will take place in a secure location in London. As it stands, access will not be afforded to lawyers acting for the families during the inquest.
“For too long the inquests into these murders have been undermined by the refusal of the police to allow access to this report. For justice to be achieved the very minimum requirement is for the legal team representing the families to now be given access to the report,” John O’Dowd said.
PSNI lawyers also indicated that they would be instigating a parallel screen process of the documentation, which is believed to be considerable, in order to identify material to be subjected to Public Interest Immunity Certificates. While the PSNI might apply and even be granted gagging orders, legally the final decision as to what is admissible during the inquest belongs to the coroner.
In the past, coroners have complied with gagging orders but the changing political landscape undercuts what might have once been considered acceptable.
Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice said the North Armagh killings of 1982 “go to the heart of the nature of the conflict here. We need that truth and the families want that truth. Many of the issues underpinning the imposition of immunity certificates are no longer valid within the ongoing peace process.”
John O’Dowd has called for full publication of the Stalker/Sampson Report:
“It is not in the interests of justice for the  police to continue to oppose proper access to the information in  this report.”
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