The continued delays in starting the inquest into the murder of County Derry Gaelic sports official Sean Brown have been described as “intolerable” and “devastating”.
The effect of the delays was poignantly highlighted by the attendance of Mr Brown’s 86-year-old widow Bridie (pictured, centre) at a ‘preliminary’ hearing this week. It was the 35th such ‘preliminary’ hearing in 25 years.
The 61-year-old prominent nationalist was attacked and beaten by an LVF paramilitary gang as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC on May 12 1997. The club chairman was then put in the boot of his own car and taken to a country lane outside Randalstown in County Antrim where he was shot six times.
Collusion has always been suspected in his murder, which took place amid intensive negotiations toward the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Earlier this year the PSNI apologised for inadequacies in the original RUC investigation into Mr Brown’s murder and agreed a settlement with Mrs Brown as part of civil proceedings.
Mrs Brown and her family were dealt another blow last year when Mr Brown’s son Damian, who was prominent in his family’s campaign for justice, died after a short illness.
This week was the first time Mrs Brown had attended any of the inquest hearings.
The coroner Patrick Kinney was told of continued delays on the part of the PSNI and British Ministry of Defence (MoD) in providing some disclosure.
He set January deadlines for both parties.
The Brown family barrister Des Fahy KC said that little progress has been made.
“It appears sir that next to nothing has been done in response to the notes issued by your counsel in July of this year,” he said.
“We welcome on behalf of the Brown family the fact that you are now setting dates and timelines in respect of the state parties. But sir, Sean Brown’s wife, widow, is in her late 80s.
“Sean Brown’s son Damian died while waiting for an inquest and on behalf of the Brown family, my submission to you on their behalf, is that this is an intolerable situation, which has gone on for far too long.”
Mr Fahy told the coroner the Brown family want a date set for the start of the inquest.
“The family who are present today have heard on many, many occasions excuses which have been advanced in relation to the provision of materials by the state bodies,” he said.
“But those excuses have not been translated into action.”
Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre said continued delays in providing information to the inquest are “shameful”.
Speaking outside court the Brown family lawyer Niall Murphy, of KRW Law, said they are “astounded and disappointed at the lack of readiness to convene this inquest”.
“Notwithstanding 34 previous preliminary hearings, to hear after 25 years at the 35th hearing, that police have still not complied with their obligations with regards to sensitive information retained, is devastating but sadly not surprising,” he said.