Northern Ireland

Sean Brown family meet with north’s shadow secretary Hilary Benn

Online meeting takes place hours before Legacy Act kicks in

C2414503 Sean Brown
Sean Brown

The family of murdered GAA official Sean Brown has spoken with the shadow Secretary of State Hilary Benn.

The 61-year-old was abducted 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 in March after coroner Patrick Kinney, who is also a High Court judge, confirmed he was unable to complete the legal process due to PSNI and MI5 failures to disclose vital information.

Hilary Benn asked if confidence in the ICRIR will be ‘helped or hindered’ by the Government’s response to legal push-back on the Legacy Act
Shadow Secretary of State Hilary Benn (Liam McBurney/PA)

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

These can be used by state agencies to withhold information they do not want the public to see.

A gist, or limited summary, of sensitive information issued by Mr Kinney confirmed how more than 25 people had been linked by intelligence to the murder of Mr Brown, including several state agents.

The British government has since launched a legal challenge over a decision by the coroner to issue the gist.

Earlier court hearings also heard 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.

Surveillance of a key suspect was also lifted the night before the killing and picked up again the following morning.

Mr Brown’s case recently featured in a major documentary ‘Murder of a GAA Chairman’, broadcast by RTÉ.

Mr Benn, who is expected to succeed Chris Heaton-Harris as Secretary of State after the next Westminster election, has said that if Labour win the forthcoming election his party will “repeal and replace” the Legacy Act, which comes into force on Wednesday.

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
Sean Brown's daughter Siobhan with members of her family, including her mother Bridie (Mal McCann)

Mr Brown’s daughter Siobhan said Mr Benn, who held a remote meeting with her family, “was very clued in on everything that is going on”.

“He knew certainly about daddy’s case and all the obstacles we have had along the way,” she said.

“He did also say that he had watched the documentary, which was a great help because at least he could see the type of person daddy was and obviously the uphill struggle we’ve had since then.

“His parting shot was ‘events of the past we cannot change, acts of parliament we can’, so, it’s well documented that if Labour get in that they will work to repeal the Legacy Act.”

Ms Brown added that her family was “very appreciative” of Mr Benn “taking the time to meet with” them.