Maghera murder victim’s family warn police over documents

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A lawyer for the family of a Mid Ulster loyalist murder victim have warned police not to try to force them to return papers ahead of his inquest.

Material was disclosed to solicitors for Fergal McCusker’s relatives a decade ago without potentially sensitive parts being withheld, a barrister told a preliminary hearing in Belfast.

A PSNI legal representative said the chief constable had an obligation under European law to identify any potential threats to life or privacy caused by release of the information.

Family lawyer Fiona Doherty said: “We have had these papers for close to ten years in unredacted form.

“Our preliminary view would be that we should not be asked and could not be forced to return the papers, given the way that they were disclosed to us.”

Mr McCusker, 28, was shot dead by the LVF in Maghera in January 1998 and his body dumped behind a youth club near St Mary’s Church. A preliminary hearing of an inquest into his death was held in Belfast on Wednesday.

Material was passed to solicitors for the dead man’s family by the coroner’s office in 2005 without redactions being made, a police lawyer said.

The PSNI faces a legal challenge by the Police Ombudsman’s office over unrelated claims that chief constable Matt Baggott obstructed ombudsman investigations into allegations against the police in 60 murders.

The ombudsman’s office is attempting to force the chief constable to hand over sensitive intelligence material.

Ms Doherty said the police’s legacy unit in charge of producing papers for historical inquests should not trouble itself too much about documents already released.

“It seems to us that there should not be any need to, going forward, redact any of these papers because we have them now.”

PSNI lawyer Ken Boyd said the force had located 147 statements originally supplied to a coroner in 2005 by police in Coleraine. He added the coroner that year sent the original material to Kevin Winters & Co solicitors in Belfast in unredacted form.

Mr Boyd told coroner Suzanne Anderson: “The chief constable has an obligation under the Convention (on Human Rights) to identify to you any Article 2 or 8 concerns and will continue to do that.”

The PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) is almost finished completing a report on his death and can disclose papers ahead of an inquest, Mr Boyd told the hearing. Material from a Police Ombudsman investigation into how the RUC handled the original inquiry could also contribute to the hearing.

Mr McCusker, from Sunnyside Park in Maghera, was a keen soccer and GAA player, who had just returned home from the US.