Northern Ireland

Almost 40 inquests scrapped under British government’s Legacy Act

Controversial act bitterly opposed by victims and relatives

A number of protests took place against the Legacy Act, which created the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery
Almost 40 Troubles-linked inquests will not be held after the British government's Legacy Act came into force on Wednesday (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

A total of 38 Troubles’ inquests linked to 76 deaths have been scrapped after the British government’s new Legacy Act came into force on Wednesday.

Figures released by the office of the Lady Chief Justice reveal that 14 inquests, dealing with 32 deaths, that were under way have now been cut short by the new law.

Four inquests dealing with five deaths were never even allocated to a coroner before Wednesday’s controversial legacy deadline.

Officials say that 20 new inquest referrals from the Attorney General, focusing on 39 deaths, are also impacted by the disputed act.

These include two inquest ordered by the Attorney General Brenda King hours before the introduction of the contentious new laws

The disputed ends all inquests and civil cases.

The north’s shadow Secretary of State Hilary Benn has said his party will “repeal and replace” the act if Labour wins the next Westminster election.

Oversight of legacy cases has now been transferred to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

Many victims and relatives of those who died during the Troubles are strongly opposed to the British government created body, believing it is designed to protect state participants from accountability.

Hours before the legacy guillotine dropped the Attorney General confirmed new inquests into the deaths of two men killed by the security forces more than 50 years ago.

SHOT DEAD: Cattle dealer Michael Leonard was killed in May 1973
Michael Leonard was killed in May 1973

Michael Leonard (24) was shot after a car chase close to the Fermanagh and Donegal border between Pettigo and Belleek on May 17, 1973.

At the time Mr Leonard, who was a disqualified driver, was killed, police claimed he had failed to stop when he got into a car after leaving a shop and that a single shot was later fired during a chase.

New evidence uncovered by research charity Paper Trail later contradicted the single shot claim after British Army logs from the time suggest that a total of three shots were fired at the cattle dealer.

It also emerged that an entry in a military log falsely claimed that Mr Leonard was a member of the IRA.

At a 1973 inquest an RUC inspector claimed that a policeman who held a rifle out of the passenger side of a pursuing Land Rover “accidentally snatched the trigger and discharged a round” after the vehicle “took a violent turn”.

None of the three officers involved appeared at the inquest, which returned a finding of misadventure.

In reaching her decision Attorney General Brenda King has taken into account several matters, including the emergence of British army logs “which are capable of casting doubt on the version of events provided to the inquest by the police”.

Michael Leonard’s brother, John, welcomed the inquest decision.

“Like so many other bereaved families who have fought for truth and justice for so long, we now face the terrible reality that Britain will not let this inquest go ahead,” he said.

“Our fight for truth and justice will continue regardless.”

Ms King also ordered a new inquest into the British Army killing of Billy McGreanery in Derry in September 1971.

The 41-year-old died in hospital after being shot at the junction of Eastway, Lonemoor Road and Westland Street.

The British later claimed he had been aiming a rifle at a military observation post.

The Historical Enquiries Team later found the victim was not carrying a firearm and posed no threat.

In 2011, Sir Peter Wall, then chief of the British army’s general staff, apologised to Mr McGreanery’s family.

Mr McGreanery’s nephew, also named Billy McGreanery, said the development “gives us a glimmer of hope for the future”.

“We still have the resolve to fight on and get justice for our uncle Billy, despite the major setback yesterday,” he said.

“We welcome the acknowledgement by the Attorney General that there are still questions that need to be addressed, and we hope that an inquest does take place at some stage to give us these answers.”