A coroner investigating the killings of two IRA men shot dead by soldiers more than 20 years ago must examine the “planning and control of the operation” that led to the deaths, senior judges have ruled.
Their decision is expected to have major consequences for other inquiries into killings where the Crown is implicated, a lawyer for the victims’ families said.
The Supreme Court in London said there had been allegations that Martin McCaughey and Dessie Grew -- shot and killed by British troops near Loughgall, County Armagh, in 1990 -- were victims of a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy.
And a panel of seven Supreme Court justices ruled that the inquest should not be restricted to “establishing by what means” the men met their deaths.
Relatives of the men -- allegedly killed by members of the British Army’s Special Air Service (SAS) -- sought a ruling by the Supreme Court, the highest court in England, after disagreements over the scope of the inquest, said judges.
Supreme Court president Lord Phillips said a coroner must comply with European human rights legislation which protected the right to life and obliged authorities to carry out “effective investigations” into the circumstances of deaths.
A date for the full inquest has yet to be confirmed.
Fearghal Shiels of Madden and Finucane, which successfully brought the case on behalf of both families, said:
“This decision represents a major victory for the families, not just in this case but in other historic inquests in which the state is implicated. It means that where allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy have been made these must be thoroughly investigated by the coroner.
“The families of Gervaise McKerr, Eugene Toman and Sean Burns, whose deaths were investigated by the Stalker/Sampson team, will benefit from this far-reaching ruling as will many others.”
Peter McCaughey, Martin McCaughey’s brother, speaking on behalf of his mother, the applicant in these proceedings, welcomed the decision:
“Our family have always believed that our brother Martin was deliberately targeted and murdered by members of the SAS.
“We have waited over 20 years for an inquest into Martin’s death and at last we will have an inquest which investigates not only whether individual soldiers unlawfully killed my brother but whether the SAS deliberately set out to kill Martin and Dessie Grew.
“We hope now that any restrictions on the scope of the coroner’s investigation have been lifted that we will finally get justice for Martin and Dessie.”
* Larry Zaitshek, also known as ‘Larry the Chef’, has been arrested in the north of Ireland.
Now living in New York, he had worked in the canteen at PSNI headquarters in Castlereagh, when he was accused of being involved in a controversial theft of sensitive British documents from the high security base in 2002.
The IRA denied it was involved in the raid, which was also linked to an attempted cover-up by members of the British Crown forces.
Mr Zaitschek has said he believes he was set up as a fall-guy by British double agent Denis Donaldson and PSNI Special Branch detectives.
He later took High Court action against prosecutors who sought to extradite him from the US, but continued to campaign to be allowed to see his son. Two years ago, prosecutors abandoned the case.
It remains unclear why he was taken into custody by the PSNI on Friday of last week, but he has since been released.
* Notorious IRA figure Freddie Scappaticci has been granted legal representation at the Smithwick tribunal of inquiry into an IRA action in 1989, in which two senior RUC police chiefs died.
Mr Scappaticci has been accused of being “Steak-Knife”, Britain’s most highly placed spy within the IRA.
Judge Smithwick yesterday said Scappaticci had “become a person at risk of having his good name and personal property jeopardised” by evidence that may be given during the tribunal.