Northern Ireland news

PSNI did not disclose military database files to Troubles inquests

Presiding Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan

SOME Troubles inquests could have to be reopened after it emerged the PSNI did not disclose material from a military intelligence database they've had in their possession for over 10 years.

Presiding Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan has contacted the families of victims, who have either had inquests completed or are awaiting the start of new proceedings, to make them aware of the development.

It is believed Northern Ireland's most senior coroner only became aware of the database - which includes Ministry of Defence (MoD) intelligence documents - in December, although it was in the possession of the PSNI since 2007.

The PSNI Disclosure Unit said it was not aware that the MoD material was in police possession and consequently did not routinely search the database when compiling disclosure of intelligence material for legacy inquests.

It searched its own database and also one shared with the MoD, and Mrs Justice Keegan said the MoD also "provided its own disclosure of material to coroners and it is to be expected that this material should be the same as that which is on the database in the possession of the PSNI".

Police will now conduct searches of the database for comparison and "it will be a matter for each coroner to deal with on a case by case basis going forward to be assured that all disclosure obligations have been satisfied".

Mrs Justice Keegan added: "The Presiding Coroner takes this opportunity to assure the families involved in legacy inquests that inquests which are listed for hearing this calendar year are on track and should be capable of being heard in accordance with planned timescales, and assures all those involved in these cases that every step will be taken to ensure that all disclosure obligations are properly discharged in all cases".

Padraig Ó Muirigh, who has represented families in four completed inquests as well as several pending cases, said it was "astonishing" that the PSNI Disclosure Unit was not aware of the database.

"Once again there are serious question marks about how the PSNI have handled legacy cases in the coroners court and related proceedings," he said.

"The families I represent have no confidence in the PSNI, or indeed MoD, fulfilling their obligations with respect to legacy inquests and consideration should be given to some independent oversight of the disclosure process.

"As a matter of urgency it must be clarified by the coroner’s office whether all PSNI disclosure obligations were discharged in those inquests which have concluded and all necessary steps need to be taken to ensure all legal obligations are met in relation to future inquests."

Mr Ó Muirigh added: "The PSNI Chief Constable should confirm exactly who was aware of the transfer of this database to the PSNI and a full explanation should be provided as to why the PSNI Disclosure Unit and, indeed, the coroner were not made aware of this development."

Mrs Justice Keegan said the PSNI has assured the Coroners Service of "its continued co-operation and commitment to work with the Coroners in relation to all matters affecting legacy inquests".

She added: "The MoD has stated that it has always fully complied with all of its legal and statutory obligations in regard to disclosure of legacy material, including historic intelligence material."

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly asked: "How could the PSNI not know that they were in possession of such sensitive material for a full decade?" 

He added: “The PSNI has questions to answer about exactly who was aware that this information had been transferred and explain why that knowledge was not shared with the PSNI Disclosure Unit." 

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