A preliminary hearing for the Clonoe inquest has heard that it is still struggling to gather paperwork from the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) and PSNI police, despite numerous hearings down the decades.
On the evening of February 16, 1992, four men, all Provisional IRA volunteers, were ambushed and killed in a hail of heavy gunfire from uncover British soldiers who lay in wait for them at the carpark of Clonoe Chapel, on the outskirts of Coalisland, County Tyrone.
The four men, Séan O’Farrell, Patrick Vincent, Peter Clancy and Barry O’Donnell had been part of an IRA active service unit that had gone to the Clonoe carpark having just fired weapons at the fortified barracks of the RUC and British army in Coalisland.
The British Army had advance information on the attack and on where those involved would go to afterwards. They would have known that little to no threat would be posed by the IRA personnel at this location as they would be dismantling and returning their weapons to be secreted back to an arms dump before making good their onward escape.
The intensity of the ambush by the British Army’s SAS was such that the gunfire set ablaze the roof of the Chapel. The gunfire was one way only.
The families have waited for over three decades for an inquest and in that time, relatives have passed away waiting on answers on what appears to have been a deliberate shoot-to-kill ambush ordered at senior levels.
But at the hearing at Belfast High Court last Firday, Counsel for the MoD and PSNI were asked to explain how, apart from ‘frantic efforts the day before’ they’d failed to ‘do anything’ despite being given ‘very generous’ extensions on time to provide the necessary documents to enable the inquest to begin proper.
Justice Humphreys, acting as the Presiding Coroner, had to remind counsel for both the MoD and the PSNI that they were in breach of his court order following previous delays in providing disclosures.
He added, in particular to the MoD, that they had taken advantage of his ‘generosity’ in providing ‘extra-time’ and that he was personally insulted by their ‘willy-nilly’ approach.
Justice Humphreys singled out the MoD in response to them sending him a letter stating that they were ‘unable to commit to the timetable for disclosure’.
Referring the letter as a ‘boiler-plate letter’ approach by the MoD in this and other inquests Justice Humphreys added: “Frankly, I’m fed-up with this approach and I’m going to nail it once and for all so that legacy inquests can get underway and get the respect they deserve and actually take place.’
“I’m fed up with the approach of state agencies and their ignorance to my directions and rulings. These boiler-plate cut and paste letters in all legacy inquests needs to stop now.
“The generosity I afforded to state agencies has been abused. I’m going to now keep watch in every single inquest and I don’t want a repeat of this.”
Referring to the PSNI and MoD approach Justice Humphreys said this was ‘a gross breach of my ruling and an insult to me.’ He also referenced the families who have waited.
Referring to 19 folders of non-sensitive disclosure identified back in 2014 Justice Humphries was less than impressed to hear that the PSNI had in all this time managed to review these. However, the PSNI, he noted, had failed to correspond with the coroner’s office with regards to five folders of sensitive material in all that time.
Justice Humphreys told counsel for the MoD and the PSNI that he wanted ‘an apology in writing by close of business on Monday.’