In a very significant decision, a High Court judge has ruled that the family of a woman shot dead by the British Army in west Belfast 45 years ago has been let down for decades by the criminal investigation system.
Mr Justice Maguire also held that the PSNI lacks the necessary independence to oversee further inquiries into the killing of Jean Smyth-Campbell, and granted her family a declaration that a planned investigation by the force’s ‘Legacy Investigations Branch’ would breach her human rights.
The verdict came in a legal bid by the family of Mrs Smyth to ensure a fully impartial new investigation by an outside agency.
The 24-year-old mother of one was killed by a single shot to the head as she sat in a car on Glen Road in June 1972. At the time the RUC police informed her family that it was probably an IRA gunman. British archives unearthed in 2014 suggested the British army’s murderous ‘Military Reaction Force’ fired shots in the area and were involved in her killing, the court heard.
Mr Justice Maguire stressed that she was a wholly innocent person. He raised the possibility of bias and a culture of preferential treatment for soldiers linked to civilian deaths, and that it might have suited authorities to portray the case as “another atrocity”. Pointing out that there were definitive facts for the case, he reached an overwhelming impression that the initial investigation lacked rigour.
In a potentially historic development, the court also agreed that the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) could not be independent for the purposes of carrying out a proper investigation, in line with article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lawyer for the family, Niall O’Murchu of Madden & Finucane Solicitors, said: “This is a very important judgment for not only the Campbell family but also potentially many other families who are seeking properly independent and article 2 compliant investigations into their loved ones’ deaths.
“The Campbell family are very relieved that this nearly three-year battle is over. They are relieved that an investigation of Jean’s death, which does not involve the PSNI may now proceed, and they feel they finally have obtained some justice for Jean.”
Ciaran MacAirt, manager of the Paper Trail charity which supported the family’s research, said the ruling set legal precedent in its judgement of the PSNI’s lack of independence to investigate the murder.
“This is highly significant for hundreds of other families who lost loved ones during the conflict that do not trust the police to investigate the killings because of an ingrained, institutional bias,” he said.
“For many of families, the DNA of the PSNI is inextricably linked to that of the RUC, and they believe that PSNI has proved it is more interested in denial and delay rather than truth and justice.
“In the case of the murder of Jean, the court seems to agree.”