Children of a murdered couple have called for a public inquiry into claims of state collusion with their loyalist killers after a coroner conceded he was not resourced to conduct such a probe.
Charlie and Tess Fox were gunned down in the kitchen of their isolated home in Moy, Co Tyrone, in September 1992 by the UVF’s mid Ulster gang.
The family claim the killings are among 28 murders and attempted murders carried out by the grouping, which was led by notorious loyalist Billy Wright.
Lawyers for the relatives allege the state colluded with the gang and ran both Wright and fellow loyalist Mark “swinger” Fulton as agents.
They have insisted a recently-ordered inquest into the couple’s deaths can only get to the truth if it is an overarching probe that examines all 28 allegedly-linked crimes.
However, at a preliminary hearing in Belfast today, Northern Ireland’s senior coroner John Leckey said the Coroners’ Service simply did not have the resources to conduct such a major investigation.
Noting the budget pressure already facing his team, Mr Leckey said only a “major change” in funding levels would make a difference.
He suggested a public inquiry, established and funded by the Government, could be an option.
Mr Leckey insisted he would not take it as a criticism if the state intervened to take over the investigation.
“You may feel a public inquiry may be the best mechanism,” he told members of the Fox family at the Coroners’ Court.
“If that approach (to the Secretary of State) was made I wouldn’t want anyone to feel I would be offended or slighted. That would not be the case.
“It’s something you may want to actively consider.”
Outside court, Mr and Mrs Fox’s son Anthony welcomed the coroner’s remarks.
“There should be a public inquiry,” he said. “That is what is needed with the mid-Ulster UVF.”
The family point to recently-revealed errors in ballistic testing of the murder weapon as evidence of collusion.
The misidentification of the Czech-manufactured rifle was disclosed in 2013 during the inquest of another victim of the mid-Ulster UVF gang - pensioner Roseann Mallon, who was shot dead as she watched television at a house near Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in May 1994.
The error was made by the RUC’s secretive Weapons and Explosives Research Centre (WERC).
One of the family’s solicitors, Peter Corrigan, today alleged WERC were guilty of “deliberately sabotaging” the police investigation of the murders.
“There is incontrovertible evidence there was sabotage,” he said.
While five men were convicted in relation to the killings, Mr Corrigan questioned the basis of some of those convictions, given the wrongly-identified murder weapon.
The solicitor also demanded that the state reveal if Wright and Fulton, both now dead, were state agents.
Referring to Wright, he said: “We want to know - yes or no - was he working for the state at the material time as a leader of the UVF in the area when Charlie and Tess Fox were murdered.
“If he was, and I use my words carefully, it amounts to state terrorism.”
Mr Corrigan claimed a former senior member of the police’s now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) told him the actions of the state in relation to the mid-Ulster UVF amounted to a “cesspit of collusion”.
Mr and Mrs Fox, aged 65 and 53 respectively, were not involved in paramilitary activity but a week before their deaths their son Patrick had been jailed for being in possession of an IRA bomb.
In the wake of the murders, Patrick Fox alleged that the security forces had threatened to set him and his family up to be killed.
Another member of the family’s legal team, Darragh Mackin, stressed the need for a wide-reaching probe.
“These are allegations of state murder of members of the state - it does not get any more serious,” he told Mr Leckey.
The family’s lawyers were also highly critical of a failure by the PSNI to, as yet, disclose any files relating to the case, 18 months on from the establishment of the inquest.
Stephen Ritchie, representing the PSNI, highlighted the volume of legacy inquests - 54 - the police were currently dealing with.
He said work on the papers had now started but admitted there was “no light at the end of the tunnel” in regard to when the documents will be ready for disclosure.
The barrister pledged to update the court on the progress of disclosure at the start of August.