Inquest into suspicious death is delayed

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A police officer’s maternity leave is one of the contributing factors in significantly delaying an inquest into the suspicious death of a former republican prisoner.

The body of Londonderry man Gerard Hampson was found at Creagh Road, Toomebridge, on the shores of Lough Neagh, six weeks after his family reported him missing in December 2007.

At the time of his disappearance, the 53-year-old was wanted for questioning about an abduction in Co Westmeath.

Although a post-mortem was inconclusive, a pathologist concluded there “must be considerable suspicions surrounding the death”.

At Monday’s preliminary hearing in Belfast, the corner’s court was told police had provided the bulk of its non-sensitive disclosures for the inquest, but in terms of sensitive documentation there were “resource issues” with progressing this material.

An “added complication” is the officer in charge is to go off on maternity leave, and is not back until April.

The police response to the disappearance led to the Police Ombudsman recommending that eight officers be disciplined.

The coroner who will lead the inquiry - due to begin next April - reminded the court it was his job to try and find out how Mr Hampson died rather than look at police actions afterwards.

Mr Hampson was last seen on November 30, 2007, when he boarded a bus to Maghera.

His desperate family appealed for help in tracing him but their hopes were dashed when a passer-by found his body at Creagh Road.

At the time, police treated his death as “unexplained”.