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11 May 2000 Edition

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O'Neill family to appeal verdict

The family of Volunteer Diarmuid O'Neill confirmed on Tuesday 9 May that they intend to appeal the verdict of lawful killing returned by a jury at Kingston Coroner's Court in February. Human rights solicitor Gareth Peirce is to act on their behalf, and it is believed that barrister Michael Mansfield QC has also agreed to be included in the legal team. Both represented the family at the original inquest.

The verdict of lawful killing caused bitter disappointment and anger amongst those campaigning for an independent inquiry into O'Neill's killing, which bore all the hallmarks of a shoot-to-kill operation. Despite initial claims by the police that the shooting was a ``tragic mistake'', once in court the officers of the Metropolitan Police maintained that they in fact considered the operation to be a complete success and insisted that they would do the same again in similar circumstances.

The conduct of the coroner, Dr John Burton, also caused controversy. Burton, who last autumn wrote to the Home Office calling for an inquiry into the killing, specifically requested permission to conduct the inquest, although he was due to retire before it opened. As the jury was about to retire to consider its verdict, he made an unprecedented intervention, apparently setting aside the evidence and telling the jury that a verdict of lawful killing would suggest implicit support for the cause for which Diarmuid O'Neill fought and turn him into a martyr. He also drew the jury's attention to the fact that Michael Mansfield is listed as a supporter on the Justice for Diarmuid O'Neill campaign letterhead.

Diarmuid's father, Eoghan, told An Phoblacht that after having given many hours of thought to their decision, the family had finally ``come to the conclusion that we could not leave it. It would seem as though we accept what happened to Diarmuid. The result of the inquest was horrible and what the coroner said was outrageous. He basically directed the jury to return that verdict. When he told them not to make a martyr of Diarmuid, it was a totally political comment.''
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