The British Ministry of Defence has agreed to hand over documents and video footage relating to ten controversial killings in the North to a coroner investigating the cases. However, a `public immunity' order could still be used to suppress embarrassing details emerging into the public domain.
The cases involve some of the most infamous killings in the conflict, including two `shoot-to-kill' ambushes on IRA Volunteers by the SAS, and the loyalist murder of a Catholic pensioner at a home which, it later emerged, was under 24-hour surveillance by British intelligence.
East Tyrone coroner Roger McLernon told a preliminary inquest into the 10 killings that following a High Court ruling it had been agreed the Ministry of Defence would provide him with access to unedited documents and video footage which related to some of the killings. He said that it would take him up to two months to study the thousands of pages of unedited documents and he adjourned the case until March 16th.
The case has been adjourned on more than a dozen occasions over the years as the British government repeatedly refused to disclose the documents.
Those who died in the East Tyrone killings in 1992 and 1993 were: Roseanne Mallon, who was killed by loyalists at her sister-in-law's home in Dungannon; Jack and Kevin McKearney, killed by loyalists at their family shop in Moy; Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Patrick Vincent, Sean O'Farrell and Peter Clancy, all shot dead by the SAS in Clonoe; and Peter Ryan, Tony Doras and Lawrence McNally, ambushed by the SAS at Coagh.
The coroner told yesterday's hearing in Dungannon that he would decide what material was relevant to the cases and should be made public to the families and their legal representatives, but that British forces could still intervene.
But he added: ``Any decision I take could be open to challenge...if they decide (that) security grounds override public interest issues.''
Speaking after the case the Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Michelle Gildernew, said the announcement amounted to ``limited progress''.
But she said: ``My concern is that the British have been involved in a culture of concealment and the Ministry of Defence can still argue for public immunity, that the families will still not be getting the full details about the deaths of their loved ones.''
She said there had been cases where families had never got the full truth because of public immunity.
``The families are going to have to struggle and fight for every bit of disclosure they get.''
Christie Mallon, nephew of Mrs Mallon said he still doubted whether they would still get to the truth. ``I believe our legal team should be there with the coroner to see the documents - how can he decide on his own what is relevant?''
Roisin Ui Mhuiri, sister of Kevin Barry O' Donnell, said that in theory the announcement was good news but she also expressed concerns about the coroner deciding what was relevant or not. ``We might still need a public inquiry to get to the truth,'' she said.