Movement at last in legacy inquests

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A review of legacy inquests involving a number of British state killings and suspected collusion began at Belfast Coroner’s Court on Monday.

High Court judge and presiding coroner Justice Keegan is set to hold preliminary hearings into each case over the next three weeks. The hearings will focus on 44 individual inquests and a total of 70 deaths.

Families killed by the British Army’s SAS at Loughgall were among those who attended the High Court in Belfast. Submissions were made over the infamous ambush in May 1987, in which nine men, including eight IRA Volunteers, were shot dead.

Hugh Southey QC, acting for the Loughgall families, argued that the case be one of the earliest heard, telling the court that due to an ongoing civil case much of the material had already been gathered.

Speaking outside court, Mairéad Kelly, whose brother Patrick was one of those killed, urged Justice Keegan to rule that the new inquest is ready to commence immediately. She said the families have been waiting for a public airing of what happened for 32 years.

“The relatives of the nine men killed at Loughgall believe that the state can no longer put obstacles up and play delaying tactics with this case,” she said.

Justice Keegan said she would consider a number of factors in timetabling the inquests, but issued a warning to the British Ministry of Defence and the PSNI police to ensure there are no further delays in retrieving material. She warned that lessons should have been learned from the ongoing inquest into the killing of 10 people in the Ballymurphy Massacre.

“I am not going to have delays... it is not helpful to anybody not least the families or the court,” she said. “That message should go out.”

The UVF murder of Catholic couple Charles and Teresa Fox at their home near Moy, County Tyrone, in September 6, 1992 was the second of six cases mentioned on Wednesday.

Their daughter, Bernie McKearney, who also lost her husband Kevin and her uncle Jack to UVF attacks, welcomed the forthcoming hearings.

“My expectation is I would like the truth,” she said. “Things are heading in the right direction after almost 30 years since both my parents and Kevin and Jack were killed.”

Relatives of others directly killed by the British state have also welcomed the start of the reviews.

Francis Bradley was shot dead during an SAS ambush near Toome in County Antrim in February 1986, another victim of a British ‘shoot to kill’ policy. His brother Brian said it is very important that this preliminary hearing process takes place now.

“It is vital that we proceed to full inquest hearings as soon as possible. People deserve to know what happened to their loved ones,” he said.

“We like many other families simply want to know the truth – we want to know the circumstances surrounding the death of Francis sooner rather than later.”

The series of preliminary hearings is due to continue to October 4.

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