Inquest into Patrick McElhone’s Co Tyrone death will be fair, coroner says

Inquest into Patrick McElhone’s Co Tyrone death will be fair, coroner says

An inquest into the death of a man with special needs who was shot in 1974 will be fair, a coroner in Northern Ireland said. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA

An inquest into the death of a man with special needs who was shot in 1974 will be fair, a coroner in Northern Ireland said.

Patrick McElhone, from Pomeroy in Co Tyrone, died in the area following an encounter with soldiers.

His inquest is due to be held in November and a preliminary hearing took place remotely on Monday.

Coroner Justice Siobhan Keegan said: “I am going ahead with this process but I am receptive and understanding of the nuances and sensitivities of evidence-gathering, but I want it done within the next four weeks for everyone.”

She added: “The MoD talk about openness to help.

“That is what I want, within a fair structure.”

Joseph Aiken QC represents some of the military witnesses.

He said: “One things my clients are anxious about is that the engagement is done sensitively, given that these are people who perhaps left the Army many years ago and are now in their seventies, and that they understand there is support available to them and that they are entitled to legal advice.”

The judge said she hoped many of the issues around witness appearances which had bedevilled the Ballymurphy inquest may not arise in this one and the numbers involved were much smaller.

She said the inquest would be heard in the local area and added she intended to use technology such as video link appearances to push ahead with proceedings despite the pandemic.

The MoD was ordered to disclose four pages of sensitive material within a week.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is drawing up a document after considering legal issues and has a fortnight to submit it.

The Northern Ireland Office and Department of Foreign Affairs have been given two weeks to address their own legal issues.

Some consideration was given to what a ballistics expert would be doing as well as the calling of a specialist engineer to give evidence.

The family of the dead man was represented by Des Fahy QC.

He said there could be evidence which would assist the coroner in determining the relative position of a lance corporal and the deceased that was relevant to the questions to be answered by the inquest.

He added it was arguable that his position relative to the deceased was closer than may have been the determination of previous legal proceedings and has sought a preliminary opinion from another expert.

He said: “I wanted to be candid about that and to give you all the information, primarily in relation to the position of the spent cartridge relative to the suggested firing position and the point of the entrance wound, what they tell you about the relative firing positions.”

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