Justice campaigns ‘up against the clock’

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Relatives of nine of those killed by the British Army in Ballymurphy, west Belfast are to receive “significant” undisclosed damages as part of settlements reached in their civil actions.

Confidential resolutions were confirmed at the High Court in claims brought against the British Ministry of Defence over the shootings in August 1971.

Following the announcement, Justice Humphreys told the victims’ families: “As well over 50 years have elapsed since these events occurred, I’m acutely aware of the significance of today as part of the process that all of you have had to go through.

“My congratulations to all of you, for having reached the end of a very long road.”

Ten people were shot dead during three days of British Army gunfire in the west Belfast neighbourhood which became known as the Ballymurphy massacre. Members of the Parachute Regiment launched the assault following the introduction of internment.

The victims included a priest trying to aid one of the wounded and a mother-of-eight. Another man later died of heart failure. In May last year an inquest found that the victims were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. The coroner ruled that the soldiers’ use of force was not justified.

Lawyers for those bereaved in the massacre brought civil actions against the Ministry of Defence and chief constable of the PSNI, claiming damages for negligence and misfeasance in public office. The cases had been listed for a week-long trial, due to get underway at the High Court on Monday.

But confidential settlements were announced in actions relating to the deaths of Fr Hugh Mullan, Frank Quinn, Joan Connolly, Noel Phillips, Daniel Teggart, Edward Doherty, Joseph Corr, John Laverty and Joseph Murphy.

Meanwhile, litigation in connection with the deaths of John McKerr and Paddy McCarthy, as well as others shot and injured by the British Army in the same incidents, is ongoing.

Outside court Padraig O Muirigh of O Muirigh Solicitors, who represented eight of the nine families, said: “The confidential nature of the settlement of this legal action prevents me disclosing the settlement figure.

“I can confirm, though, that the figure is significant and that our clients are satisfied with the outcome of this litigation.”

Mr O Muirigh added: “Whilst nothing will bring back their loved ones or reverse the traumatic impact these events have had on these families, it would be hoped that with the satisfactory conclusion of this litigation, following the milestone inquest findings last year, can bring some small degree of comfort to the Ballymurphy families.”

‘DELAY, DENY AND DESTROY’

In a separate development, relatives of a Catholic man murdered by loyalist paramilitaries 30 years ago have secured a hearing for their High Court action over Crown force collusion in the killing.

Michael Gilbride (36) was shot dead by the UDA as he visited his parents’ home in the Ormeau area of south Belfast in November 1992. Mr Gilbride’s widow, Roseann, welcomed the development but also expressed frustration that it has taken so long to get to this stage.

She said even 30 years after the killing, the state was attempting to conceal information through secrecy measures.

“Perversely, we are the lucky ones as, with the British Government’s proposed legacy legislation, many families will never receive a Police Ombudsman’s report, nor will they be able to pursue a civil case.

“The British Government’s strategy of delay and deny has been upgraded to delay, deny, and destroy.”

‘RUNNING DOWN THE CLOCK’

And only a public inquiry into the murder of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane will uncover the full extent of a state-operated policy of “extrajudicial executions”, the High Court has heard.

Counsel for the lawyer’s widow described him as the victim of a scheme where loyalist paramilitaries were infiltrated, resourced and manipulated to target those identified for murder.

Geraldine Finucane is challenging British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis’s decision not to establish a public inquiry into events surrounding his killing in February 1989, arguing it breached her human rights.

Fiona Doherty QC argued: “The available evidence suggests that employees of the state, responsible for law enforcement, devised and operated a policy of extrajudicial executions.

“In other words, a policy of murder by proxy whereby the state itself engaged in terrorism through the agency of loyalist paramilitaries.”

In November 2020, Lewis announced there would not be a public inquiry “at this stage” because he wanted other police review processes to run their course.

He was ordered to pay £7,500 damages to Mrs Finucane for the excessive delay in reaching his position.

The current challenge centres on the legality of his decision to await the outcome of reviews by the PSNI’s Legacy Investigations Branch and the Police Ombudsman.

Referring to the level of collusion in the lawyer’s murder, the barrister contended that it was hard to imagine a more serious allegation against a liberal democracy founded on the rule of law.

“Patrick Finucane was a victim of this policy, he was identified by state agents as suitable for assassination and duly shot dead in front of his family in a particularly brutal fashion,” she said.

“The army, the police and the security services have been implicated to varying degrees in the events surrounding his death, in the operation of the policy that led to it, and in attempts to prevent the truth about it emerging.

“Questions remain as to the identities and culpability of those who authorised the policy, allowed it to happen, and what level they operated at.

“Questions also remain about the extent to which the policy was known and authorised by government.”

Urging the judge to quash Mr Lewis’ decision and order him to set up such a tribunal, she added: “This court shouldn’t allow matters to get to the stage where the state effectively gets what it wants by running down the clock on this investigation.

“In other words, the passage of time and the loss of evidence makes any investigation pointless.”

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