8 January 2004 Edition

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Inquest families demand full access

Michelle Gildernew

Michelle Gildernew

The decision of the British Ministry of Defence to limit access to documentation relating to a number of controversial killings in Tyrone has been slammed by the relatives of those who died. The MoD has agreed to provide the coroner investigating the ten killings, including the deaths of seven IRA Volunteers, with access to documentation relating to the deaths but has refused to allow access for the families and solicitors acting on behalf of the families of the deceased.

East Tyrone coroner Roger McLernon told a preliminary inquest hearing that the MoD had agreed to provide him with full access to unedited documents and video footage that related to some of the killings. Attempts to hold the inquests have been repeatedly thwarted by the MoD's and PSNI's refusal to release relevant evidence.

This latest move follows a recent High Court ruling in relation to the deaths of IRA Volunteers Dessie Grew and Martin McCaughey, in which the PSNI were ordered by the court to hand over unedited documentary evidence.

McLernon said it would be up to him to decide what material was relevant and should be made public. Disclosure of the material deemed relevant by the coroner would be further subject to Public Interest Immunity Certificates if challenged by the MoD or PSNI.

The cases under consideration include the death of Tyrone pensioner Roseanne Mallon, shot dead by loyalist gunmen at a relative's home in Dunganon ten years ago, the killings of Jack and Kevin McKearney in 1992, the SAS execution of four IRA Volunteers Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Patrick Vincent, Sean O'Farrell and Peter Clancy at Clonoe in 1992 and of three IRA Volunteers, Pete Ryan, Tony Doris and Lawrence McNally, shot dead at Coagh in 1991.

Speaking through Relatives for Justice, a nephew of Roseanne Mallon said that the MoD's decision still denied the families full access to material previously withheld.

"It is imperative that the families and our legal representatives also view the PSNI and MoD material. This is vital to ensure that transparency and accountability are served, that all the families legal teams are in a position to fully represent our interests during the inquests," said Christopher Mallon.

"These are hugely controversial killings relating to the direct actions of the British state. The British state is not an independent observer here — they are an interested party of whom numerous questions remain unanswered. The British state cannot dictate what information may or may not be relevant and who is appropriate to view that evidence, especially when they are responsible for the killings."

Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said that the continuing refusal to disclose vital information to inquest hearings "is symptomatic of a culture of concealment which infects the entire British system".

Gildernew said that at every turn in their search for the truth, the families have been frustrated by a state-sponsored cover-up.

"The refusal to provide information to these inquests is not an isolated case," she said. "It must be seen in the context of the British Government's refusal to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the obstruction of the Saville Inquiry at all levels of the British system and the ongoing attempts to cover up the extent of British collusion and control of loyalist death squads.

"This culture of concealment is itself evidence of how much the British state has to hide in respect of its campaign of terror against the republican and nationalist community in the North.

"Sinn Féin will continue to stand with those families who continue to campaign for the truth. There must be full disclosure by the British state of its real role in Ireland over the last three decades of conflict."

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