Official reports into British Crown force “shoot-to-kill” murders in the Six Counties should be released to the victims’ families, the High Court ruled today.
PSNI chief Matt Baggott was ordered to disclose the whole of the Stalker and Sampson reports with select areas being potentially omitted. The judgment was delivered by Mr Justice John Gillen in Belfast today.
Delayed inquests dating back almost 30 years are now one step closer to proceeding.
The inquests include the November 1982 deaths of IRA Volunteers Sean Burns, Eugene Toman and Gervaise McKerr near Lurgan, County Armagh.
The then RUC police had the men under observation before they ambushed their vehicle, firing 109 bullets into the car.
The coroner also plans inquests into the death of Catholic teenager Michael Tighe, shot dead by police at a hay shed near Craigavon, County Armagh in November 1982, and republican socialists Roddy Carroll and Seamus Grew, shot dead near Armagh in December 1982.
The British government has always denied any “shoot-to-kill” policy existed and has resisted calls from families to look again at what happened.
Former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police Sir John Stalker was brought in to investigate. He was later replaced by Colin Sampson, Chief of West Yorkshire Police. Their reports were ordered to be censored and shelved by successive British governments.
Justice Gillen called for a “generous” approach to disclosure.
“The coroner is constrained by the concepts of fairness, proportionality and transparency inherent in the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,” he added.
“I believe it is an entirely rational and proportionate decision for him to conclude that this means that he must permit the families of the deceased to see the entirety of the Stalker and Sampson reports -- he having determined them ‘generally relevant’- whilst at the same time, recognising the need to protect sensitive material and the Article 2 rights (to life) under the Convention of police officers etc.”
He supported the coroner’s readiness to accept redacted (partially censored) copies of the reports for dissemination to the families to enable the PSNI to request a Public Interest Immunity Certificate (gag order) if the coroner considers those censored areas relevant to his inquiry and wants them disclosed.
Mr Carroll’s brother Tommy said: “We families welcome today’s strong judgment by Justice Gillen supporting families’ right to truth and rejecting the chief constable’s attempts at cover-up.’’
He added: “We will now have access to the reports which tell us the truth about how our loved ones were killed. And tell us the truth of how their killings were planned and covered up. All we have ever wanted was the truth.”
Sinn Fein Assembly member John O’Dowd said they had fought a long and difficult campaign.
“It is my hope that the inquests will now proceed and what is seen by many as a deliberate policy of delay and obstruction will come to an end,” he said.
“The families, by their determined actions over many years, have shown that they will not be denied the truth and they will not be denied justice.”