The inquest of a murdered father of two in the North has been dramatically halted after it emerged that a suspect has been wrongly issued with a UK Government comfort letter assuring him he was not being sought by the authorities.
Armagh court heard that in 2008 the so-called “on the run” letter was passed from the UK Government to Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly who then passed it to the individual who has been identified as a suspect in the 2003 killing of Co Armagh man Gareth O’Connor.
The court was told this happened five years after Mr O’Connor’s father claimed Mr Kelly had assured him the IRA was not involved in the crime and that he would tell him if he was made aware of any development.
Addressing the court, a lawyer for the North’s Senior Coroner John Leckey described Mr Kelly’s role as a “matter of public concern”.
With the UK Government having announced it will no longer stand over the on the run letters, the inquest was halted to allow police to assess whether a prosecution is now possible in the case.
Mr O’Connor, 24, disappeared near the Irish border in 2003 on his way to sign bail on a charge of Real IRA membership. His body was found two years later in a car in Newry canal. No one has ever been convicted in relation to his death.
His family allege he was murdered by the Provisional IRA – a claim the organisation denied at the time he vanished.
It emerged in court that the suspect is the unnamed individual flagged up last year in a UK Government-commissioned review of the controversial letters scheme as having been wrongly issued one of the assurances due to the fact that police were not aware the process was confined to offences committed before the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998.