UK News

Coroner blames funding logjam for inability to set date for Ballymurphy Massacre inquests

Michael Mansfield QC meets the Ballymurphy relatives outside the High Court in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

A CORONER has blamed an ongoing funding logjam over legacy inquests for his inability to set a date for the case of 10 people shot dead by the Army.

Justice Adrian Colton said he could not schedule a hearing for those killed in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971 because he did not know how much money the Coroner's Service would have next year.

The Ballymurphy case is one of around 50 historic Troubles-related inquests still stuck in Northern Ireland's coronial system due a political impasse over paying for them.

A Catholic priest and a mother of eight were among those gunned down during three days of shooting involving members of the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy in August 1971.

The episode is referred to by bereaved families as the "Ballymurphy massacre".

"I am not going to set a date and then disappoint people because I can't deliver it," Mr Colton told a preliminary hearing in Belfast.

"It would be unfair. I don't want to make a commitment I cannot keep."

In a clear reference to the political wrangle, Mr Colton, the head of the Coroner's Service, added: "I hope progress will be made outside of this service.

"If that happens the situation is transformed immediately and we'd be in a very different scenario."

In February, Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, proposed that a specialist unit be set up that could deal with the cases within five years.

However, politicians have so far failed to agree to stump up the £10 million needed to fund the process.

The money will be accessed as part of a government financial package addressing a range of issues related to Northern Ireland's toxic past.

The package of mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles is stuck in the starting blocks due to a dispute between Sinn Féin and the British government on the potential of state papers being withheld from families on the grounds of national security.

While the row relates to the workings of a new historical investigations unit, the Democratic Unionists have refused to sign off on funding the outstanding inquests until consensus is reached on all aspects of the legacy package.

A number of relatives involved in the cases are currently taking legal action against Stormont ministers and the government over the failure to fund the new inquest unit. An application for a judicial review will he heard in Belfast on December 14.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday, John Teggart, whose father Danny was killed at Ballymurphy, said the families were angry money was not being released.

"The families are absolutely devastated," he said.

"Progress can be made – it's just a lack of funding."

Michael Mansfield QC is representing Mr Teggart in the case.

Outside court, he pointed out that witnesses and bereaved relatives were dying amid the ongoing delays.

"I am someone who always says justice delayed is justice denied," he said.

The high-profile lawyer said the problem was outside the court process and rather in the political arena.

"I think personally that long before now the British government should have stepped in to ensure that there isn't a logjam here, that there isn't a blockage," he said.

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