Volume of legacy inquests creating ‘pressure’ for police

Volume of legacy inquests creating ‘pressure’ for police
The hearing took place at Laganside courthouse in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The number of legacy inquests scheduled in upcoming months is creating “pressure” for police in preparing files of sensitive material for disclosure, a court has been told.

During a preliminary hearing at Laganside courthouse in an inquest into the death of a former republican prisoner killed outside a police station, a lawyer for the PSNI said there were 10 legacy inquests scheduled between now and April.

Sam Marshall, 31, was ambushed by gunmen from the loyalist UVF terrorist group as he left a police station in Lurgan along with fellow republicans Tony McCaughey and Colin Duffy on March 7, 1990.

Judge Gilpin has been appointed as a coroner to preside over the inquest.

The full inquest is set to begin on March 20 and will hear from 30 civilian witnesses, either giving evidence in person or by a statement.

During the preliminary hearing, Frank O’Donoghue, counsel for the coroner, asked if there was “something of a reluctance” in the PSNI to commit to a date to handing over sensitive material to the court.

Counsel for the PSNI, Mark Robinson KC, said: “The context is this. There was a five-year plan put in place (for legacy inquests) and resources were allocated on that basis.

“Given the impact of Covid and potentially other factors, there has been a somewhat significant departure from that five-year plan.

“Between now and April of next year, there are approximately 10 legacy inquests.”

He added: “The PSNI has always sought to work collaboratively with the court to try and provide timeframes for the completion of work but, given the pressure presented by all these challenges, at this particular moment in time I cannot provide a timeframe for the completion of the PII (Public Interest Immunity) exercise.

“There are five lever-arch files of sensitive material in this matter.

Former republican prisoner Sam Marshall was killed outside a police station (Family handout/PA)

“The process involves a close inspection of each page to ensure that whatever is redacted is justified.

“It then has to be marked up, scheduled, and then counsel’s opinion is compiled before it goes to the chief constable for consideration of the assertion of PII and then to the minister for a certificate.

“There are a number of steps in the process but the heavy lifting is the examination of these documents and the marking up.

“My understanding is they are with the subject matter expert and he is making his way through them.”

Mr Robinson continued: “When one multiplies that by the number of inquests that are ahead in the coming months, that is what is creating this pressure.

“It is in no way intended to frustrate the court, it is a significant difficulty that is impacting across the board in all the inquests.”

The hearing at Laganside Courthouse heard that 10 legacy inquests are scheduled to take place between now and April (Liam McBurney/PA)

Judge Gilpin said: “I appreciate the pressures that people are under in relation to these inquests but we do need to move this issue forward.”

The judge asked for an update on a timeframe for the disclosure of documents before the next preliminary hearing on January 18.

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