Northern Ireland

British government to seek judicial review over Sean Brown inquest

Collusion suspected in GAA man’s murder

C2414503 Sean Brown
Murdered GAA official Sean Brown

The family of murdered GAA official Sean Brown has said their ‘dignity has been grossly abused’ after it emerged the British government is seeking to launch a legal challenge in relation to the inquest into his murder.

Mr Brown (61) was attacked, beaten and abducted by a LVF gang as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAA club in May 1997.

He was then taken in the boot of his own car to a laneway near Randalstown, Co Antrim, where he was shot six times.

An inquest was abandoned last month after a coroner confirmed he was unable to complete the legal process due to PSNI and MI5 failures to disclose vital information.

Both made applications for multiple redactions to sensitive documents connected to the murder under Public Interest Immunity (PII).

PII certificates are used by state agencies to withhold information they do not want in the public domain.

Coroner Patrick Kinney, who is also a High Court judge, said last month he intended to write to Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris to request a public inquiry.

It is understood the British government has responded by challenging the decision by the coroner to issue the limited gist, or summary, of sensitive information, which was read into the court record in February.

Before the collapse of his inquest the court had heard how more than 25 people had been linked by intelligence to the murder, including several state agents.

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

It has also been revealed that a surveillance operation, believed to have been carried out by the RUC, and centred on Mark ‘Swinger’ Fulton, a notorious member of the LVF in Mid Ulster, was lifted the night before the killing and picked up again the following morning.

The scene of Sean Brown's murder
The scene of Sean Brown's murder

Calls for a public inquiry have been supported by senior figures in the Irish government, including former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, while sporting figures, including GAA president Jarlath Burns, have also given their support to Mr Brown’s family.

In a statement Mr Brown’s family spoke of their disappointment.

“Our patient dignity and expectation was grossly abused,” they said.

“Far from abiding by the express direction of the High Court to take the opportunity for once in this case to do the right thing, and convene a public inquiry, they have decided to attack our local judiciary and are actually ignoring the request and are now instead challenging the decision to issue the limited gist of sensitive information.”

The family added that “these proceedings are clear in their intention”.

“The state is terrified that their carefully curated official history of the conflict is now being perfected by judicially endorsed legal facts, hence their attempts to deny victims of access to the courts and access to justice.”

The family’s solicitor Niall Murphy, of KRW Law, said: “Today’s announcement has a retraumatising effect on a family but most specifically an 86-year-old widow, already coming to the terms with the facts that were permitted to emanate from the inquest process.”

In a statement the British government said it is going to launch judicial review proceedings

A spokesman said: “We can confirm that an application for leave to apply for judicial review has been made relating to the inquest into the death of Sean Brown.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage given the matter is now the subject of judicial consideration.”

Earlier this week Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris wrote to chief constable Jon Boutcher questioning his actions over legacy.

In response Mr Boutcher said: “I am independent of the executive and not subject to the direction or the control of government ministers, department or agencies’.”