The widow of a murdered Gaelic sports official has received a trial date in her legal action against the British Crown Forces over the protection given to the loyalist killers.
Bridie Brown is suing the PSNI chief constable and the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), over the involvement of state agents in her husband Sean Brown’s assassination nearly 25 years ago.
A judge listed the lawsuit for a five-day hearing in June next year after being told about the recent death of the victim’s campaigning son, Damian Brown.
Mrs Brown’s lawyer, Kevin Winters, described it as a poignant and significant development.
“Having an imminent timeline on this case will give the Brown family some hope of closure,” he said.
Sean Brown was abducted by a loyalist paramilitary gang, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAA Club in County Derry in May 1997.
The 61-year-old was bundled into the boot of a car and taken to Randalstown, County Antim, where he was shot six times.
No one has ever been brought to justice for his murder, but court papers name ex-LVF boss Mark ‘Swinger’ Fulton among the suspects.
In 2002 Fulton was found dead in a cell at Maghaberry Prison, where he was being held on separate charges.
The RUC investigation into Mr Brown’s killing has been subject to heavy criticism from both the Police Ombudsman and the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team.
His widow is seeking damages for misfeasance in public office and negligence.
Her lawyers point to evidence Fulton was given documentation and assistance from the MoD and MI5 which aided the LVF in targeting members of the nationalist community for assassination.
They also argue that RUC Special Branch deliberately hampered and withheld information from detectives investigating Mr Brown’s murder.
The gun used in the shooting is linked to several other killings in the Mid Ulster area, according to the statement of claim.
It alleges: “Fulton and the LVF acted with impunity conferred upon them by the state.”
Outside court Mr Winters stressed how Damian Brown battled for years to secure justice for his father.
“There’s a real poignancy that within weeks of his sad passing we now have a trial date for the family’s civil action against the state,” he said.