Northern Ireland

PSNI chief constable challenged over delays at legacy inquests

Legal challenge linked to Paul ‘Topper’ Thompson inquest dismissed this week

Kenova package
Kenova package PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher (Mal McCann)

PSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher has been challenged over delays in information being provided at legacy inquests.

The call came after the High Court in Belfast dismissed a legal challenged launched by Mr Boutcher and Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris to stop a summary of police files being delivered at the inquest of Paul ‘Topper’ Thompson.

The 25-year-old was being given a lift in a taxi when he was shot dead by the UDA/UFF at Springfield Park in west Belfast in April 1994.

Collusion is suspected in the case.

Alan Lewis -         25-3-2024
Murder victim Paul Thompson who was killed by the UDA in 1994. 
Today, (Mon 25-3-2024), at Befast High Court a judge ruled in favour of the family and against the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the PSNI Chief Constable who lost their challenge to a Coroner’s ruling regarding evidence at Mr Thompson’s ongoing inquest.
Following the ruling the campaign group Relatives for Justice released the following statement :
“ Paul Thompson Inquest: Justice Humphreys rules PSNI & SOS have no grounds for challenging coroner and dismisses their applications to prevent a gisting of the file.
Coroner was correct.
State cannot just hoist the flag of NCND and expect the court to salute it.
NCND, whilst entirely lawful to use, in essence also has no application in law and therefore the argument that coroner in seeking to provide a gist of file 7 had erred in law in making that decision, is wrong.
Indeed gisting has been frequently used in such cases, which has been helping to coroners and the court. 
Coroner's grounds in making her decision to gist the file were “unimpeachable".
This ruling strengthens the position of coroners to ensure carefully balanced gisting is right once they’ve made the decision.”
Paul Thompson collect Paul 'Topper' Thompson (Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast/Photopress Belfast)

Mr Thompson’s inquest, which opened in 1995, was adjourned until last April when the first evidence was heard.

It continues to face delays over failures by state agencies, including the PSNI, to provide sensitive information to the court.

Under the British government’s controversial Legacy Act inquests must be at their findings stage by May 1 or they will be halted.

As part of the Thompson inquest state agencies, including police, requested Public Interest Immunity (PII) in relation to some of the material made available.

Earlier this month coroner Louisa Fee, a former legal adviser to the Police Ombudsman, concluded that information contained in one of seven PSNI files was highly relevant and that a gist, or summary, should be provided to Mr Thompson’s legal team.

The state bodies argued it would breach a policy of Neither Confirm Nor Deny (NCND).

The gist may now be delivered at an inquest hearing into Mr Thompson’s death on Thursday.

A similar gist provided by corner, Patrick Kinney, who is also a High Court judge, at the inquest of LVF murder victim Sean Brown last month revealed that more than 25 people, including state agents, were linked by intelligence.

While that conclusion was not the subject of a legal challenge, Ms Fee’s decision to provide a gist in the Thompson inquest prompted the recent legal action, which was thrown out this week.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly claimed the PSNI was “obstructing” the release of information and called on Mr Boutcher to comment on the police’s position.

The PSNI was contacted.

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Office did not respond directly when asked if Mr Heaton Harris intended to appeal the court’s ruling.

“We acknowledge the court’s ruling and will carefully consider our next steps,” she added.