One of the most controversial inquiries of the conflict involving the RUC’s notorious “shoot to kill” policy, has been reopened.
Clear evidence that republicans were deliberately killed rather than being arrested led to an investigation by John Stalker, then deputy chief constable of Manchester, in the mid 1980s.
But his report was never published, and there was political uproar after he was removed from his post just at the point where he was about to obtain a tape made by Briitish military intelligence of one of the shootings.
Now the files he compiled are being re-examined by the North’s police ombudsman, who will decide whether to launch a new investigation, focusing on the killing in 1982 of Gervaise McKerr.
McKerr was shot dead alongside two other unarmed IRA Volunteers - Sean Burns and Eugene Toman - by RUC police following a chase through a checkpoint near Lurgan in 1982. Their car was riddled with 109 bullets.
The British government has always denied the Crown forces had a shoot to kill policy, and has resisted repeated calls from families to look again at what happened.
Three years ago, the House of Lords blocked an attempt to order a fresh investigation. Attorney General Lord Goldsmith claimed that an inquiry into the McKerr/Burns/Toman killings would be an unnecessary “burden” which the government could not fulfill.
But pressure to look into the matter has come from the Council of Europe, which has requested that the British government rectify previous investigative failures. The British government was forced to refer the issue back to Mrs O’Loan.
The decision to ask Mrs O’Loan to reinvestigate the Kerr murder came after the European Union ministers demanded that the British government take all necessary steps to “achieve concrete and visible progress” in the cases.
Any new investigation could look at whether there was an attempt to tamper with evidence before Stalker mounted his inquiry, or an attempt to abort the inquiry.
Stalker was suspended over allegations of associating with criminals in Manchester, but was later cleared. The move generated public suspicion about the motives for his departure and a political furore in Belfast and London. His report has never been published.
The ombudsman is understood to have already received papers from Mr Stalker’s original investigation into the three killings and the two other shoot-to-kill incidents.
Mr Stalker will himself be interviewed by Mrs O’Loan in due course.
However, the inquiry is complicated by the fact that the RUC men involved have previously been acquitted of the murders following a highly controversial court procedure.
“The law says you can’t reinvestigate if there’s been a previous hearing,” O ‘Loan said. “But it may be there are other issues that need to be investigated.”
Jane Winter, of British Irish Rights Watch, who has been closely involved with the case, said: “We welcome the fact that the ombudsman is looking at the police misconduct allegation, but we think the McKerr family should have got a proper international judicial inquiry. She cannot reinvestigate the murders from the top down or whether politicians sanctioned this operation.”
Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey called for the immediate publication of the Stalker report.
“Europe has already laid the finger of blame at the door of Number 10,” he said.
“Now we need to see the full publication of the Stalker report and the immediate publication of all other inquiries relating to the policy of shoot-to-kill.”