::: u.tv :::

MONDAY 01/03/2004 17:07:47
Cory reports court battle adjourned

The government today succeeded in delaying court action aimed at forcing it to publish reports into four contentious murders in Northern Ireland.
By: Press Association

It won a three-week stay of a High Court action in Belfast by families of the victims who say the Government has been putting off publication of the reports - which it received last October - and which examined allegations of security force collusion in the murders.

A judicial review seeking to force the Government into publication of the reports by retired Canadian Supreme Court judge Peter Cory was due to be held today.

Instead the Government`s legal team sought and won the postponement.

It was a move heavily condemned by the victim`s families who branded it another in a long line of Government delaying tactics.

Granting the adjournment Mr Justice John Gillen made it clear he did so ``reluctantly``.

Declan Morgan QC, for the Government, told the hearing that the Government needed the extra time to continue studying the reports and address legal concerns.

There were more than 100 people named in the reports and there were matters of their privacy, fairness and right to life as well as national security considerations which had to be addressed before publication, he said.

Mr Morgan added: ``The expectation is that within three weeks the reports will be published, or if not actually published a framework will be established in which publication will be achieved.``

Granting the adjournment the judge said: ``I do so in the expectation that this court will be given dates for publication in three weeks time.``

He said he had to balance the wishes of the families against the rights of the 100 named persons in the reports.

The judge set March 22 as the date he will sit again to be given a publication date.

The killings under the spotlight are:

:: The Ulster Freedom Fighters` murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, who was shot dead in front of his family in their north Belfast home in February 1989.

:: The loyalist killing of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson, who was blown up by a car bomb as she drove away from her home in March 1999.

:: The murder of Catholic Robert Hamill who was kicked to death by a loyalist mob in May 1997.

:: Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright, who was gunned down inside the Maze prison by the INLA in December 1997.

Judge Cory also presented the Irish government with reports on the killing of two RUC officers and a Northern Ireland High Court judge and his wife amid allegations of collusion with the IRA by Irish police.

Dublin published its reports in December and ordered a public inquiry into the deaths of the two policemen.

Legal action was launched by the Finucane, Nelson and Wright families when the British Government failed to publish its reports, despite Judge Cory privately telling the families he had recommended public inquiries in all cases.

Opposing the Government application, Seamus Treacy QC, for the Finucane and Wright families, said there was a belief that the Government was trying cynically to delay publication.

He pointed to the St Patrick`s Day celebrations in the United States on March 17 during which Mr Murphy was, he said, due to accept an award on behalf of the Prime Minister in respect of Northern Ireland.

The QC said there was a belief that the Government sought delay so as ``not to damage the celebrations on St Patrick`s Day``.

Mr Treacy also alleged: ``It looks as if there is an attempt going on in the background to tinker with the content of this report. The families fear the Government is sexing-down the report.``

The Government had promised to publish the reports and from the families` point of view was engaged in a ``cynical breach of faith``, he added.

It was revealed in court that during the Government`s examination of the report elements of the Ministry of Defence and Police Service of Northern Ireland had either seen the report or extracts from it.

Mr Treacy said that for some interested parties to see the report in its original form, but not the families, was ``simply outrageous``.

Brian Fee, QC for the family of Rosemary Nelson, said he also strenuously objected to the adjournment application.

Speaking after the ruling, Geraldine Finucane, widow of the murdered solicitor, said she was ``extremely disappointed`` the case had been held up.

``This is just another delay in a long list of delays - they have been delaying for the last 15 years and want to keep it going as long as possible.``

And she said the revelation MoD and PSNI officials had seen the report was an outrage.

``I think it is an absolute disgrace that people in the MoD and PSNI have seen the report into my husband`s murder and I have not.

``These people are being accused of many things and I think it outrageous they have seen the report before me,`` said Mrs Finucane.

David Wright, father of Billy Wright, was equally angry.

But he said: ``I would not say I was disappointed, I was expecting the worst and I got it - it`s another delaying tactic by the Government.``

But Mr Wright said delaying action for three weeks would not change the actual facts in the report.

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