Northern Ireland

Intelligence links more than 25 people - including state agents - to the murder of GAA official Sean Brown

Shocking details confirmed during inquest hearing

Murdered GAA official Sean Brown
Murdered GAA official Sean Brown Murdered GAA official Sean Brown

The family of GAA official Sean Brown has called for a public inquiry after an inquest review hearing was told that in excess of 25 people, including state agents have been linked by intelligence to his murder.

The 61-year-old was attacked and beaten by a LVF gang as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC, Co Derry, in May 1997.

After he was placed in the boot of his own car, he was taken to a country lane outside Randalstown, Co Antrim, where he was shot six times.

Collusion was strongly suspected in the murder, and no-one has ever been charged.

At an inquest hearing in Belfast on Tuesday it was confirmed for the first time that state agents were involved in Mr Brown’s murder.

Joseph Aiken KC, counsel for coroner Patrick Kinney delivered the confirmation that state agents were linked to the shocking murder.

He said sensitive and non sensitive material has been reviewed by the coroner in unredacted form.

“The material indicates that in excess of 25 individuals were linked to intelligence to the murder of Sean Brown,” he said.

“The intelligence material indicates that those individuals are said to have been involved at the material time with loyalist paramilitaries.

“Those individuals, or potential suspects, come from different geographical areas of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Aiken added that the individuals “are not necessarily linked to one another”.

“The intelligence material indicates that at the time of the death of Sean Brown a number of the individuals linked through intelligence to the murder were agents of the state.

“Intelligence is not evidence but issues relating to the agents of the state and their handling would inevitably fall to be investigated in the inquest if it were possible for the coroner to do so.”

In recent weeks a series of closed hearings have been held to consider public interest immunity (PII) applications.

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

Mr Kinney will rule next week on what material can be considered in open court.

A previous inquest hearing was told a suspect in the murder was believed to be a serving member of the Royal Irish Regiment.

It has also emerged that another suspect held a personal protection weapon and was regularly visited by a police officer at his home.

The Brown family have been present at around 40 inquest-related hearings with the majority attended by Mr Brown’s son Damian, who died in 2021 after a short illness.

His elderly widow Bridie has also attended numerous hearings.

Des Fahy KC, acting for the Brown family, said there was “audible and visible upset” as the damning details were revealed.

Mr Fahy later referred to the intelligence linking 25 people to the murder.

“The family note that not a single one of those individuals was charged with any offence in relation to the murder of Sean Brown, never mind brought to court, in relation o the murder of Sean Brown,” he said.

He added that the “upset and distress of the family is related directly” to what they had heard

“For many years they have made the case that there was collusion and the involvement of state agents in the murder of Sean Brown, but nevertheless, it is shocking and distressing to hear that in the context of this inquest” he said.

Mr Fahy suggested that it was “inevitable” the inquest could not deal with matters relating to state agents.

“What I say on behalf of the families is that the case now for a full public inquiry into all the circumstances of the murder of Sean Brown is now overwhelming,” he said.

He added: “I ask the question on behalf of the next-of-kin. What is the attitude of the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) to the holding of a public inquiry?”.

“Their focus now, if a viable inquest is no longer possible, is devoting all of their efforts to securing a full and meaningful public inquiry into the circumstances of this murder.”

Speaking outside court, the Brown family solicitor Niall Murphy, of KRW Law, said: “The confirmation in court, that state agents were involved in the murder of Sean Brown is harrowing.

“The Browns endured the trauma of having to listen to this unvarnished fact, but fear that this is merely the tip of the iceberg

“We urgently appeal to the Secretary of State to confirm that he will not resist this earnest call for a public inquiry.”

Alan Brecknell, of the Pat Finucane Centre, was in court with the Brown family.

“This can only mean that this information was withheld from the Police Ombudsman during that offices investigation into Sean’s murder and from the later police reinvestigation,” he said.

“The question now needs to be asked why was this information withheld and who authorised it.”