::: u.tv :::

TUESDAY 06/01/2004 14:09:50 UTV
Coroner to see files on IRA killings

The Ministry of Defence has finally agreed to provide a Northern Ireland coroner investigating 10 contentious killings, including those of seven IRA men, full access to documents and video footage relating to the cases, it was announced today.
By:Press Association

A recent High Court case in Belfast on an unrelated but similar case ordered police to hand over unedited documents relating to the deaths of two IRA men.

East Tyrone coroner Roger McLernon told a preliminary inquest into the 10 killings that following the High Court ruling it had been agreed the Ministry of Defence would provide him with access to unedited documents and video footage which related to some of the killings.

Attempts to hold the inquests into the deaths in the early 1990s had been dogged by legal argument over security force disclosure of documents and the case has been adjourned on more than a dozen occasions.

The cases under consideration are the Loyalist murder of Catholic pensioner Roseanne Mallon, 76, 10 years ago and uncle and nephew Jack and Kevin McKearney in 1992.

Mrs Mallon was killed by the UVF at her sister-in-law`s home in Dungannon. A legal battle over evidence began after it emerged the house had been under surveillance by under-cover soldiers at the time of the killing. Arguments centred on access to soldiers` logs books and video footage.

The McKearney`s were killed by loyalist gunmen as they worked in the family butcher`s shop at Moy, County Tyrone.

The IRA men died at the hands of the SAS in two separate incidents and it is believed that at least one of them was video taped.

Four terrorists, Kevin Barry O`Donnell, Patrick Vincent, Sean O`Farrell and Peter Clancy were shot dead by the SAS at Clonoe, County Tyrone in 1992.

Three more Peter Ryan, Tony Doras and Lawrence McNally were killed at Coagh, County Tyrone in 1991 when SAS soldiers fired up to 200 shots at a stolen car they were travelling in.

Both incidents have been plagued by allegations of a ``shoot-to -kill policy`` operated by the security forces.

The coroner told today`s hearing in Dungannon that it would take him up to two months to study the thousands of pages of unedited documents and he adjourned the case until March 16.

He said he would decide what material was relevant to the cases and should be made public to the families and their legal representatives.

But he said: ``Any decision I take could be open to challenge.``

Mr McLernon said it would be open to the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the Ministry of Defence to challenge his decisions on the grounds of public interest immunity.

``If they decide (that) security grounds override public interest issues.``

He said there was a balancing exercise to be undertaken but it would be him and not the High Court that would decide initially on the relevance of information.

Speaking after the case the Sinn Fein MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Michelle Gildernew, said today`s announcement amounted to ``limited progress``.

But she said: ``My concern is that the British have been involved in a culture of concealment and the Ministry of Defence can still argue for public immunity, that the families will still not be getting the full details about the deaths of their loved ones.``

She said there had been cases where families had never got the full truth because of public immunity.

``The families are going to have to struggle and fight for every bit of disclosure they get.``

Christie Mallon, nephew of Mrs Mallon said he still doubted whether they would still get to the truth.

``I believe our legal team should be there with the coroner to see the documents - how can he decide on his own what is relevant.``

Roisin Ui Mhuiri, sister of IRA man Kevin Barry O`Donnell,said that in theory today`s announcement was good news but she too expressed concerns about the coroner deciding what was relevant or not.

``We might still need a public inquiry to get to the truth,`` she said.

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