Northern Ireland

Sean Brown: Family’s legal action over UK Government failure to set up public inquiry facing delays due to General Election

Judge agreed to put the case regarding the murdered GAA official back to a new date in September

Bridie Brown, the wife of Sean Brown, with his daughters Claire Loughran (left) and Siobhan Brown (front right) and his son Sean Brown (rear right) speaking to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast in March
Sean Brown's widow Bridie with their daughters Claire Loughran (left) and Siobhan Brown (front right) and son Sean (rear right) at court in March (Liam McBurney/PA)

Legal action over the UK Government’s failure to act on calls to establish a public inquiry into the murder of GAA official Sean Brown is facing delay because of the General Election.

The challenge by Mr Brown’s elderly widow against the Secretary of State for not taking a decision on the request made by a coroner was due to be heard at the High Court later this month.

But with the Westminster poll announced for July 4, issues have been raised about making any determination during the sensitive pre-election period of purdah where government activity is restricted.

In court on Friday, a judge agreed to put the case back to a new date in September.

Mr Brown, 61, was abducted by a Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) gang as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAA Club in Co Derry in May 1997. The father-of-six was bundled into the boot of his car, taken to Randalstown, Co Antrim and shot dead.

In March this year the coroner, Mr Justice Kinney, declared that the inquest could not continue because of material being excluded or withheld on national security grounds.

Before the hearing was halted, however, it emerged that state agents were among more than 25 people linked by intelligence to the murder.

Mr Justice Kinney wrote to Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, asking him to establish a public inquiry and setting a four-week deadline for taking a decision.

Lawyers for Mrs Brown launched a legal challenge over the failure to respond to that correspondence.

They alleged that it breached the state’s duty to provide an effective investigation into her husband’s death under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A public inquiry is now the only viable way of meeting those obligations, according to their case.

It was further contended that the Secretary of State has acted unlawfully amid public concern at the potential involvement of agents in the murder.

With Mrs Brown now aged 87 and having fought for decades to establish the full circumstances surrounding the killing, her legal representatives insist there is an urgency to the proceedings.

Earlier this week Mr Justice Humphreys ruled that she has established an arguable case and granted leave to apply for a judicial review.

It was suggested today, however, that any determination about holding a public inquiry should be left until a new Secretary of State is in post after the General Election.

Adjourning the full hearing to September, the judge said: “The only reason we got here is because there was a failure to make a decision to date.

“Had there been a decision (in the timeframe Mr Justice Kinney suggested) purdah would never have impacted on this.”