Northern Ireland

Inquest of suspected Catholic collusion victim halted as British government continue legal action

Fergal McCusker was shot dead by the LVF

A vigil will be held to remember LVF murder Fergal McCusker on Friday
LVF murder victim Fergal McCusker

A coroner at the inquest of a Catholic man murdered by loyalists has urged the British government to hold a public inquiry.

Paddy McGurgan made the call as the inquest into Fergal McCusker was halted on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old was shot dead by the LVF in Maghera, Co Derry, as he made his way home from a night out in January, 1998.

No-one has ever been charged with his murder, although four men were arrested and later released.

Mr McCusker’s family and others believe there was collusion.

The killing came months after the LVF gunned down prominent GAA member Sean Brown in nearby Bellaghy in May 1997.

His family believe there are links with the Brown murder.

A decision by Mr McGurgan to issue a limited summary, or gist, of sensitive information linked to the case is subject of an ongoing legal challenge by the British government, including Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris.

Legacy inquests are regularly the subject of applications by state bodies for redactions to sensitive documents under Public Interest Immunity (PII).

PII certificates are used by state agencies to withhold information they do not want members of the public to see.

In a provisional ruling on the viability of the inquest Mr McGurgan said he was of the view that “that the information that is withheld on PII grounds is of central importance to the issues in this inquest.

“Without it being considered by the inquest I am not conducting what I consider to be a sufficient investigation into the death,” he said.

The coroner added that “given the sensitive nature and content of the materials over which I have upheld PII, and given the fact that I cannot via the vehicle of an inquest have a closed material procedure, I believe this is a case requiring a public inquiry”.

In a statement the McCusker family said they have been “robbed of a lifetime of memories” and described their loved one as “an innocent civilian” and “a family man” who was “murdered by cowards in his own hometown with no proper investigation or convictions over his death”.

“How could an inquest of the kind conclude with the amount of redacted material, the use of PII and the intervention of the secretary of state before the May 1 deadline?

“Our question to Mr Harris is if this had of been his relative how he would feel in our position?

“What is he trying to hide on behalf of the British state?”

Solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh, of Ó Muirigh Solicitors, described the development as “very sad” for the McCusker family.

“It is imperative that a prompt decision is made by the secretary of state and certainly in advance of the May 1,” he said.

“This is the only suitable legal mechanism now available to the McCusker family to have a fearless investigation into his death that will expose the full extent of the role of agents in his death.’”

C2414503 Sean Brown
Sean Brown

Last month a coroner abandoned an inquest into the murder of Mr Brown and confirmed he was unable to complete the legal process due to PSNI and MI5 failures to disclose vital information.

He has also written to Mr Heaton-Harris requesting a public inquiry into that murder.

However, he has yet to respond to the request and instead launched legal action against the coroner over his decision to provide a gist of sensitive information.

Earlier this month Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris was accused by a barrister representing the McCusker family of " an unprecedented political intervention” as it emerged he has written to chief constable Jon Boutcher questioning his actions.