An inquest into the assassination of independent councillor and civil rights activist Patsy Kelly almost 50 years ago has been refused.
The decision came despite a Police Ombudsman’s report finding the RUC investigating the case had been involved in collusive behaviour.
The family of the County Tyrone man said the decision had caused “an enormous deal of hurt”. His son, Patsy Kelly Jr, described the refusal as “disgraceful”. and an “obstruction of the truth” which his family intends to challenge.
The father-of-five was last seen driving away from the Corner Bar in Trillick, where he worked, on July 24th, 1974.
Mr Kelly’s body was discovered almost three weeks after his disappearance by two fishermen at Lough Eyes, near Lisbellaw, County Fermanagh, floating in shallow water. He had been shot six times and a green nylon rope, attached to a 56-pound weight, had been tied around his waist.
Rumours began to circulate in the tight-knit nationalist village shortly after the murder that members of the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), a British army unit set up in 1970, had been involved. The Ombudsman found that RUC detectives failed to adequately investigate the UDR suspects.
No one has ever been charged or prosecuted in connection with the killing. Oliver Gibson, a former DUP Assembly member and UDR soldier was under suspicion of involvement within hours of the killing almost 50 years ago but was never charged. He died in 2018, aged 83.
Last month, a Police Ombudsman report found the original RUC investigation into the killing was “wholly inadequate” and that the family had been “failed by police”. Evidence of collusion between Crown force members and loyalist paramilitaries was also found.
In the hard hitting report, Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson said there was a series of “significant” investigative failings in the case. These included a failure to verify alibis of UDR men, forensic failings, ‘latent’ investigative bias and no dissemination of intelligence.
She revealed that RUC Special Branch and senior police in the area were aware of “significant intelligence” that a paramilitary murder gang was active at the time of Mr Kelly’s murder. A number of this gang’s members were “either directly linked to Mr Kelly’s murder and other terrorist attacks”. The ombudsman also revealed that a number of Crown force members, including RUC, “were also linked to this [UVF] unit and its activities”.
The first incomplete inquest held after the murder, which delivered an open verdict, was branded a “whitewash” by the Kellys. They are now applying for a judicial review to challenge the Attorney General’s decision to refuse a second.
The family said that given what is known “in regard to the wide scale collusion across multiple agencies of the British state, it is simply appalling and incomprehendible that a fresh inquest has been denied.
“After a campaign of almost 50 years, the placement of obstacles by British authorities to the truth is nothing new to our family. This is another truth obstacle that we will overcome. We are never giving up.”
The councillor’s family has mounted a campaign spanning decades into the murder, led by Mr Kelly’s 81-year-old widow, Teresa. At the time of his murder, she was pregnant with their fifth child.
In an interview earlier this month, she said: “I’m not dying until I hear the truth”, adding that her pursuit for justice was “for her children”.
The Kelly family’s lawyer, Adrian O’Kane, said a claim that family had obtained all the relevant answers from the PONI report was “both wrong and misconceived”.
“The Police Ombudsman, by definition, is confined to examination of issues relating to the conduct of the RUC/PSNI.
“The Kelly family have always contended that all of the other components of the State – including the Ministry of Defence and the Security Services – have important issues to address and questions to answer resulting from the death of Patsy Kelly.
“These can only be properly and fully addressed in a fresh inquest.”
Sinn Féin MP Órfhlaith Begley has said the family are entitled to a fresh investigation.
“Given the damning findings of the Police Ombudsman’s report into how Patsy was abducted and killed, the levels of cover-up and collusion involved, and the RUC’s failure to properly investigate this brutal murder, it is clear that a fresh inquest is needed,” she said.
“Patsy Kelly’s family have a right to the truth and an investigation to uncover exactly what happened to their husband and father.”