A judge has ordered police to hand over case files required for the inquest of a murdered Gaelic Athletic Association official.
Lord Justice Weir issued the ultimatum after it emerged that disclosure of the documents on Sean Brown’s killing has been delayed again - this time due to “inconsistencies” in how the papers have been security checked.
That we stand here, so many years on, not having received a scintilla, a single page, of evidence from the police, to now be told that the police are ordered to comply with a High Court judicial direction is very welcome indeed,Niall Murphy [KRW Law]
A review hearing of the stalled inquest was told that names blanked out in one document were not redacted in others.
Mr Brown, 61, was abducted and shot by loyalist paramilitaries after locking up a GAA club in Bellaghy, Co Londonderry, in May 1997.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) investigation into the murder has been subject to heavy criticism from both the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the now defunct cold case review unit, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
Judge Weir, who is conducting a review of 56 outstanding legacy inquests held up in the coroners’ courts, delivered a damning critique of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) approach to disclosure after being informed of the latest problem.
After hearing that Coroners’ Service lawyers had spotted the issue, Lord Justice Weir questioned whether the police could be “bothered” to do the work properly.
He told a lawyer representing the PSNI that it was not the Coroners’ Service’s job to “mark your homework”.
“Redaction is supposed to be taken seriously,” he said.
“That means redaction on one page should be the same on the next page. Redactions should not vary depending of the state of digestion of the person carrying it out on any one day.”
Issuing a two-week deadline for the handover of 34 files deemed non-sensitive, the judge made clear that he would not tolerate further delay.
“This isn’t a place where people come in and do things at their own speed,” he said.
“They do them when I say they are to be done.”
Martin Wolfe QC, representing the PSNI, said he would work to resolve the inconsistencies.
“I will put my shoulder to the wheel to ensure it is done,” he said.
In regard to “sensitive” case files, Mr Wolfe said he would aspire to complete their disclosure by early summer.
Judge Weir, noting that he had to compile a report on his review exercise for Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan, again responded in strong terms.
“I don’t think he’ll (Sir Declan) want to hear much from me about your aspirations,” he told Mr Wolfe.
“He’ll want me to tell him what you are going to do.”
Karen Quinlivan QC, representing Mr Brown’s family, said the disclosure issues in the case were “symptomatic” of the problems besetting many of the outstanding legacy inquests.
She claimed the PSNI “ignored” previous deadlines for disclosure issued by now retired senior coroner John Leckey.
“This is one of the features (of the legacy cases) - the PSNI make commitments which they do not fulfil, routinely,” she said.
Mr Brown’s son Damian was among other family members watching from the public gallery at Laganside Courts in Belfast.
Afterwards he said he would wait to assess if the judge’s order brought progress.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.
The family’s solicitor, Niall Murphy, of KRW Law, said the handover order represented a “massive step forward”.
“That we stand here, so many years on, not having received a scintilla, a single page, of evidence from the police, to now be told that the police are ordered to comply with a High Court judicial direction is very welcome indeed,” he said.