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31 January 2002 Edition

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Crown forces must appear at inquests

BY LAURA FRIEL


Crown forces personnel involved in fatal shooting incidents in the Six Counties will be compelled to give evidence at inquests, it emerged this week. At present, British soldiers and the RUC/PSNI do not have to give evidence about their role in a series of controversial killings.

The proposed change came to light during an application for a judicial review in the High Court in Belfast brought by Hugh Jordan, the father of Pearse Jordan.

Jordan, an IRA Volunteer, was unarmed when the car he was driving was rammed by the RUC and he was shot dead in West Belfast in 1992. An inquest into the killing has been adjourned several times.

In court, Judge Kerr revealed that he had been informed by counsel for the Lord Chancellor that legislation to change the inquest system is expected to take place by the end of February.

A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last year, which criticised restrictions on inquests in the North of Ireland, has put the British government under pressure to reform the inquest system. Last May, the European Court ordered the British government to pay compensation to the families of 12 people, including those 8 IRA Volunteers killed at Loughgall, the Jordan family and of Volunteer Gervaise McKerr from Lurgan, all shot dead in disputed circumstances.

Relatives for Justice said that the proposed changes did not meet their demands. "Changes must include juries being able to deliver full verdicts, the independent and impartial examination of all evidence and statements including forensic, ballistic and pathology evidence by expert witnesses," the group pointed out.


Derry families challenge DPP




Legal action is to be taken against the Director of Public Prosecutions in the North by a number of Derry families whose relatives died in controversial killings by crown forces. At a press conference, lawyers said the families were seeking a judicial review to compel the DPP to provide detailed reasons why no prosecutions followed the killings.

Invoking last year's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, the families of Desmond Beattie, Kathleen Thompson, Colm Keenan, Manus Deery, Daniel Hegarty, Thomas Friel, Denis Heaney, Stephen McConomy and Paul Whitters wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions in August 2001 asking what measures are now being taken to inform the families of the deceased, in detail, of the reasons for the failure to prosecute those responsible?

Paul O'Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre said the Strasburg court had found Britain in violation of article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights because it had failed to investigate the circumstances of the deaths.

Minty Thompson, whose mother Kathleen was shot dead in Creggan by British soldiers shortly before Bloody Sunday, said: "The DPP is showing contempt not only for our family but also for the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. For 30 years we were ignored by the authorities. Those days are over. We will see them in court."

Sinn Féin Asembly member and party spokesperson on criminal justice, Mitchel McLaughlin, has supported the calls for the Director of Public Prosecutions to fulfil his obligations: "For more than 30 years, the 'justice' system has been a component of the state's arsenal. It is despicable that the DPP has dragged its feet in responding to the families concerned and I commend the families for their dignified and principled response to this appalling treatment."


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