Northern Ireland

Collapse of Sean Brown inquest will raise concerns

Senior GAA figures attend Sean Brown inquest review hearing

Connla Young, Security Correspondent

Connla Young has been the Security Correspondent with the Irish News since 2021.

The family of  Sean Brown leave the High Court in Belfast after the inquest into his murder was halted. The coroner is to write to 
the Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris requesting a public inquiry into the murder of the GAA official by loyalists in 1997, after stating his inquest cannot continue due to material being withheld on grounds of national security. PICTURE: Mal McCann
Relatives of Sean Brown leave the High Court in Belfast on Monday. PICTURE: Mal McCann (Mal McCann)

The collapse of Sean Brown’s inquest will raise concern that others may also have to be abandoned.

The inquest, which opened last March, was set to resume this month.

However, applications by state agencies to withhold information, including the PSNI and MI5, have resulted in it being halted.

Both agencies have sought Public Interest Immunity certificates, which are used by state agencies when they don’t sensitive information in the public domain.

For almost 30 years Mr Brown’s devoted family have stood firm in the face of various setbacks and obstacles placed in their way by state agencies.

On Monday they made the familiar journey to Belfast for what has emerged to be the last inquest hearing into Mr Brown’s murder.

During the hearing Mr Brown’s daughters, holding framed pictures of their father, flanked their 86-year-old mother Bridie as coroner Patrick Kinney described the failure of state agencies to “properly assist the inquest as deplorable and frankly inexcusable”.

There was standing room only as family members were joined by senior figures from the GAA.

President Jarlath Burns listened intently to the coroner along with Ulster chief executive Brian McAvoy and Derry chairman John Keenan as reminded those present how he frequently recorded his “dissatisfaction” at the way the “process was conducted by the state agencies”.

The Brown family, along with many people in south Derry have always suspected collusion.

In recent weeks that has become more apparent than ever.

Last week the coroner heard that more than 25 people had been linked by intelligence to the murder, including several state agents.

It has previously emerged that a suspect in the murder was believed to be a serving member of the Royal Irish Regiment while another held a personal protection weapon and was regularly visited by a police officer at his home.

For decades the RUC, and later PSNI, along with MI5, have consistently refused to hand over material linked to the case.

It emerged last week that information was also not made available to former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan, when she investigated the murder in 2007.

Sean Brown
Sean Brown

The events of Monday are being followed closely by relatives and legal teams involved in other legacy inquests.

State agencies have been accused of deliberately trying to ‘run down the clock’ ahead of the May 1 deadline for the completion of inquests set by the British government.

Under its controversial Legacy Act, all inquests not at their findings stage before that date will be halted.

Several inquests, as with Sean Brown’s, focus on the actions of specific loyalist murder squads and members who were also state agents.

Some of the same loyalist units feature across several of the other ongoing inquests.

Whether there is a repeat of what happened in the High Court on Monday remains to be seen.

Recent revelations around the Brown inquest may also have direct implications for the PSNI.

During Monday’s hearing Des Fahy KC, acting for the Brown family, said hundreds of redactions have been made by the PSNI chief constable and the Security Service (MI5).

In recent years the PSNI has gone to great lengths to forge close links with the GAA.

However, the force will find it difficult to untangle itself from the circumstances that have now led to Mr Brown’s inquest being abandoned.

Senior GAA figures are expected to meet their PSNI counterparts in the coming weeks.

No doubt, the Brown inquest will feature in those discussions.