14 August 2008 Edition
Campaign for truth on Pearse Jordan murder continues
UNARMED IRA Volunteer Pearse Jordan was shot dead by the RUC on the Falls Road in Belfast in 1992, a victim of Britain’s shoot-to-kill policy. For 16 years, Jordan’s family, friends and comrades have tried to break through a wall of silence, evasion and cover-up by the British Government, the RUC and the PSNI in an effort to have the truth of his murder established.
An inquest into the killing has repeatedly been adjourned since it was opened at the coroner’s court in 1995 after an internal RUC investigation stated that no one should face prosecution for the killing. Pearse Jordan’s family won a legal victory at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) when it ruled in 2001 that Britain had violated human rights laws and had failed to properly investigate Jordan’s death.
The ECHR ordered the British Government to hold a new investigation. But the refusal by the PSNI to co-operate – it has failed to disclose documents and information and comply with the coroner’s demands – means the reopened inquest has been postponed once again until January 2009.
The latest delays have occurred as the British Government attempts to pass legislation through the House of Lords that would allow the Secretary of State to issue a certificate enabling the Government to hold inquests in secret – without a jury – and presided over by a Government-appointed coroner!
This week Patrick Adams, who was a friend of Jordan’s and is the chair of west Belfast Sinn Féin, spoke to An Phoblacht about Pearse’s life and death and about the ongoing campaign by his family for justice.
Pearse was from New Barnsley Drive and he had a lot of friends.
He was a young man, 22 years of age, and he was a quiet, private individual. He was close to his family, especially his parents, Hugh and Teresa.
Describing Jordan, Adams said:
“Like many young people of his generation, Pearse joined Óglaigh na Éireann. By all accounts he was reliable, efficient and determined in the republican work he carried out.”
On 25 November 1992, Jordan was driving down the Falls Road. As he travelled down the road, outside the City Cemetery, the car he was driving was rammed in a pre-planned operation by the RUC.
“He’d been ambushed. Two unmarked vehicles with undercover RUC members inside had driven into his car. Pearse stumbled out of the car, out onto the Falls Road, dazed and unarmed. He held his hands in the air.
“The RUC members approached him and shot him three times in the back. There was no warning issued.
“No one has ever been held to account for their involvement in that killing. No one has apologised to Pearse’s family.”
Adams told An Phoblacht:
“Since then, his parents have struggled with dignity for 16 years to assert their right to know what happened.
“Pearse’s father, Hugh, immediately called for a public inquiry. With no inquiry, the Jordan family have asserted their right to an inquest, a very modest demand. Since Pearse was killed, the Jordans have gone to court over 130 times in their battle for truth.”
Adams described the 2001 ECHR 2001 ruling that the British Government had failed to properly investigate the death as “a landmark human rights ruling”.
But, he said, “Instead of obeying it and enabling the Jordan family to commence the inquest, further obstacles have been erected by the British Government and the PSNI.
“Documents have still not been made available to the Jordan family’s legal team by the PSNI. The identities of those in the RUC who were responsible have not been revealed. Records of what happened have been tampered with.
“And in the last month, the lawyers acting for the PSNI chief constable have gone to court to fight to prevent other papers being handed over to the coroner and Jordan family.”
In 2007, the inquest was told that the PSNI are unable to find ‘Sergeant A’, the RUC member who fired the fatal shots. It was also told that the PSNI is unable to contact former Special Branch chief Bill Lowry, who was on the scene the night Jordan was killed.
And it is not just individuals but documents that have ‘gone missing’, or been withheld.
Of the 50-page report of the original RUC investigation into the killing, 35 pages have been withheld from the Jordan family’s legal team. The PSNI claims that several crucial documents are missing, including the statement made by the officer who shot Jordan, police transmissions before the shooting, and notes from a meeting between Bill Lowry and the RUC officers involved in the shooting.
The latest delay is the result of the failure of the PSNI to complete “risk assessments” into any potential threat to 13 officers involved in the case and due to give evidence at the inquest. The frustrated senior coroner, John Leckey, explained that this stalling means the inquest cannot begin until January next year.
It is undoubtedly the hope of the PSNI and of Jordan’s killers that the inquest legislation in the new British Counter-Terrorism Bill will be in place by this time. The Counter-Terrorism Bill has sparked protest and controversy in Britain largely in response to its key provision – extending the period that ‘terrorism suspects’ may be detained without charge from 28 days to 42.
Alongside the detention provision is legislation enabling the British Government to remove the jury and the family from the inquest process if this is “in the interests of national security... in the interests of a relationship with another country” or “otherwise in the public interest”.
The Bill narrowly scraped through the House of Commons on 11 June with the nine votes of the Democratic Unionist Party’s MPs. It will be voted on by the House of Lords this autumn.
The Jordan family established in the 2001 ECHR ruling that inquests into deaths in state custody or as a result of state action require several essential elements: independence, effectiveness, promptness and reasonable expedition, public scrutiny, and accessibility to the family of the deceased.
The new legislation clearly contravenes these requirements: it removes judicial independence by allowing the coroner to be appointed by the executive arm of government and it removes public scrutiny by getting rid of the jury and limiting family involvement.
Several inquests into killings in the North of Ireland by British crown forces have been subjected to repeated delays in inquests, and if passed, this legislation will apply to 40-50 such historic cases.
Patrick Adams said that Sinn Féin will support the Jordan family and other victims of British state murder in their struggle against this legislation and for PSNI accountability.
“The Jordan family have fought for 16 years for the truth. To know how your son has died is surely one of the most fundamental rights any parent must have.
“Sinn Féin has used its role on the Policing Board and on the District Policing Partnership to assert the rights of the Jordan family. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has raised the case with the British Secretary of State and with the PSNI.
“We will use every power and forum at our disposal to support the Jordan family and we will hold to account anyone in the PSNI or elsewhere who attempts to subvert the Jordan family’s basic right to an inquest.”