Fresh inquests have been ordered into the murders of five Catholic men involving the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) in County Tyrone between the years 1988 and 1991.
The cases, which were claimed by the loyalist paramilitary UVF, are linked through suspects, geography, and ballistics.
Those who died were Phelim McNally, 28, in Coagh in 1988, Thomas Casey, 57, in Cookstown in 1990, Sean Anderson, 32, in Pomeroy in 1991, and teenager Dwayne O’Donnell, 17, and Thomas Armstrong, 52, in Cappagh in 1991.
The decision to grant new inquests was taken on the basis of deficiencies in the original investigation and inquest as well as new information.
Lawyer Gavin Booth of Phoenix Law, who acts for the families of the men, welcomed the ordering of fresh inquests.
“For too long these families have sought answers as to what happened to their loved ones,” he said.
“New evidence which has come to light raises serious questions, not only about the involvement of the 8th Battalion of the UDR in all these killings but also as regards the failure of the RUC to prosecute these individuals.”
The move comes as the British government’s Legacy Bill, dubbed the ‘Bill of Shame’ for its attempt to cover up its war crimes in Northern Ireland, is on course to become law later this year.
Mr. Booth said his clients “are steadfast in their commitment to seeing these inquests completed”.
“To be clear, this inquest and all those that are before the courts should continue,” he said.
“These families deserve that right, and their inquests should be properly resourced and heard within a timely fashion.
“Our next step is to ask for this case to be urgently listed before the Coroner’s Court and for immediate steps to be taken to make sure this case goes ahead without delay.”
Seana Quinn, sister of Mr. O’Donnell, said her family has been fighting for decades for answers.
“Our families are fighting for truth and justice; it’s not up for debate,” she said. “We deserve this inquest.”
Davina Bolton, daughter of Phelim McNally, said her father was an innocent man.
“He was out doing his daily things, and he was robbed of his life,” she said.
“This is an important day for us because we’re finally moving forward and getting closer to the truth. We’ve been waiting for a long time for this, 35 years, we just need truth and justice.”
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill described the development as a “positive step for truth and justice”.
“All of these families deserve to know what happened to their loved ones and access justice through the courts,” she said.
“The Attorney General’s ruling today has again laid bare the need for the British Government to scrap its cruel and heartless legacy bill that is simply about a cover-up and closing the door on families ever getting the truth.”
Members of the 8th Battalion of the UDR are believed to have been involved in several murders and attempts to kill Catholics across the district in the late 80s and early 90s, with the attacks later claimed by the UVF.
The killings for which the inquest has been ordered are part of a series of 17 linked murders and three attempted murders.
One of the weapons used, a powerful VZ58 assault rifle, is believed to have been used in the murder of up to 12 people, including Mr. McNally, Mr. Casey, Mr. Armstrong, and Mr. O’Donnell. It was smuggled into the north by loyalist loyalists in the late 1980s with the help of the British military.
An examination of intelligence relating to several murders and attempted murders between 1988 and 1991 “highlighted concerns in relation to several members of 8 UDR”.
Davina Bolton said it was an important day for the families as they were finally getting closer to the truth.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this - 35 years is a long time - and we just need the truth and justice,” she said.
She said it was “heart-breaking” trying to explain to her children why their grandfather had died.
“They only go to a grave, that’s all they know,” she said.
“For us as a family, we were robbed of a father; our mother was robbed of a husband; our children were robbed of a grandfather.
“It’s about closure for us and the truth and justice for Daddy.”
Shauna Quinn said she did not expect ever to see anyone prosecuted in relation to her brother’s death.
“However, what I’m looking [for] is that there is an acknowledgement that there was collusion - and a very high level of collusion - within the Cappagh case.
“If that’s the result we get, that will satisfy us. We deserve the truth.
“Dwayne would have [turned] 50 last week. He died at 17 years of age. My mum was 39 when he passed away, her eldest child, and my daddy was 41.
“We just really all deserve the truth… all of the families that have been granted inquests today.”