The family of a man shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries while eight undercover British soldiers were hiding nearby yesterday criticised a decision not to hold an inquest into the murder. It could now be six years before an inquest is held, the family of former republican prisoner Sam Marshall was told this week.
Coroner John Leckey said the 1990 attack on Mr Marshall, prominent republican Colin Duffy and another republican, Tony McCaughey, should be the subject of a further probe by the Police Ombudsman’s office before any decision on an inquest.
Legal representatives for the Marshall family said they feared the decision would cause further delays. The case hit the headlines earlier this month when the scale of the British military force presence at the murder scene emerged.
However, Mr Leckey said that since a trial linked to the killing had already been held, he should delay a decision on any inquest until a complaint lodged with the ombudsman’s office is dealt with in case it unearthsnew information.
The family said they had expectedthe preliminary hearing in Belfast to agree arrangements for an inquest.
“We are very angry and upset that after having to wait for years we are now going to have to wait for up to a further six years. We are also considering legal action over the period ahead,” they said.
Six months ago the ombudsman’s office, which probes complaints against police, was hit by a damning report on its handling of historic cases and agreed to a freeze on investigating state killings until reforms are implemented.
It is also recruiting a new police ombudsman to lead the organisation after Canadian Al Hutchinson was forced out of the position in disgrace.
A legal representative for the ombudsman’s office told the hearing that it faced financial barriers to investigating historic cases but hoped that a plan to review all such cases within six years could be implemented.
“I can’t say for sure where Mr Marshall’s case will fall in that,” the ombudsman’s lawyer said.
A recent review by the police Historical Enquiries Team (HET) revived the controversy when it revealed Marshall was killed in a major military operation involving eight armed undercover soldiers plus their commanding officer.
Solicitor for the Marshall familyPadraigin Drinan said the HET review centred only on a study of the original RUC files and called for a genuinely new inquiry.
She pointed out that 18 Crown force members were involved in the surveillance operation and that RUC Special Branch officers had briefed the soldiers involved.
“There has been no new investigation,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mr Leckey hasgranted the PSNI police more time to present a new plan to end a standoff on disclosing files on ‘shoot-to-kill’ incidents during the conflict.
The PSNI had been accused of prolonging a cover-upafter a late objection to how documents relating to nine long-delayed inquests were to be processed.
A controversy continues to surround a number of deadly ambushes and other planned killings carried out by the British State against IRA Volunteers and innocent civilians. The inquest cases involve six people, including IRA members and a Catholic teenager, shot by British Crown forces around Lurgan and Armagh in 1982.
Lawyers for the families objected to the latest PSNI delaying tactic. After Coroner John Leckey gave PSNI chief Matt Baggott one week to give an explanation, the force responded by seeking further time to draw up a detailed timetable of future responses.
Fiona Doherty, representing two of the victims, said she had little choice but to accept the proposal.
“It seems that the PSNI are prepared to come up with a more detailed proposal,” she said.
“We are where we are but we have been coming to these preliminary hearings since 2007 and I am not really at all clear what the police have been doing for five years.”
The coroner is investigating the deaths of IRA men Eugene Tornan, Sean Burns and Gervaise McKerr near Lurgan, County Armagh, in November 1982, when the PSNI (then RUC) fired 109 bullets intothe car the three were travelling in.
The other shoot-tokill incidents Mr Leckey willexamine are the deaths ofteenager Michael Tighe, shot dead by the RUC in November 1982 at a hay shed near Craigavon, and suspected INLA Volunteers Roddy Carroll and Seamus Grew, shot dead at a police checkpointnear Armagh in December 1982.