Northern Ireland

Sean Brown inquest: ‘Further pain and anguish’ for family as coroner calls for public inquiry

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 Inquest Sean Brown's widow, Bridie, leave the High Court in Belfast help by family 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 (Mal McCann)

A coroner has ruled that an inquest into the murder of senior GAA official Sean Brown cannot proceed due to the extent of sensitive state files being withheld from the proceedings on national security grounds.

Announcing the Public Interest Immunity (PII) ruling in Belfast, Mr Justice Kinney said he would be writing to Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris calling on the government to establish a public inquiry into Sean Brown’s killing by loyalists.

Mr Brown, 61, was abducted and killed by loyalist paramilitaries as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones Club in Co Derry in May 1997.

Justice Kinney’s ruling comes after state agencies applied for multiple redactions on sensitive files related to the murder.

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 Inquest GAA president Jarlath Burns and Brian McAvoy Ulster Council join the family of murdered GAA official Sean Brown at Belfast's High Court. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)


Preliminary inquest proceedings have already heard that in excess of 25 people had been linked by intelligence to the murder, including several state agents. No-one has been convicted of Mr Brown’s murder.

During his ruling, Mr Justice Kinney heavily criticised how the state parties had handled the disclosure process, branding repeated delays as “deplorable and frankly inexcusable”.

He said the extent of material he had agreed to exempt from being used as evidence at the inquest meant he could not comply with his statutory duty to investigate the circumstances of Mr Brown’s death.

Time For Truth Campaigners outside the High Court in Belfast where the inquest into the murder of GAA official Sean Brown was halted. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Sean Brown inquest Time For Truth Campaigners outside the High Court in Belfast where the inquest into the murder of GAA official Sean Brown was halted. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

“I am satisfied that my duty to carry out a full, fair and fearless investigation into Mr Brown’s death is seriously compromised as issues of central importance to the death cannot be dealt with by the inquest process,” he said.

The coroner said he was unable to make a “proper analysis” of the material that has been redacted as a result of the Public Interest Immunity process.

“In those circumstances and with considerable regret I have concluded that I cannot continue with this inquest,” he said. “To do so would inevitably result in an inquest that would be incomplete, inadequate, and misleading.”



Justice Kinney said he knew his decision would cause “further pain and anguish” for Mr Brown’s family.

The coroner said he expected a reply from the Government on his request for a public inquiry within four weeks.

Mr Justice Kinney said Sean Brown was an “entirely innocent man” who was subject to a “planned execution” by Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) gunmen.

“His murder was senseless,” he added.

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

The coroner said he could not provide a satisfactory answer to the family’s question as to why Mr Brown was murdered.

He said the victim was at the “heart of his family and his community”.

“He was a man of who his family are justifiably proud. He was the kind of person our society needs and his loss is truly felt in that wider sense.”

The coroner praised the family’s long fight for justice.

“The inquest process as it stands, cannot provide what you desire or deserve,” he said.

The public gallery was packed with members of the Brown family and supporters, including senior GAA officials, including association president Jarlath Burns.

A barrister representing Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said he would carefully consider the ruling.

Barrister for the Brown family, Des Fahy KC, said while they did not want the inquest to stop, they accepted the ruling.

Mr Fahy said the family reacted to the end of the inquest with a mixture of “sadness and anger”.

“This is not a legal process where the Brown family is frustrated because they have not been able to find out the truth about the murder of Sean Brown,” he said.

“That’s because the truth about what happened is right here in these folders of sensitive material about the murder, but it can’t come out and it can’t be revealed by you (the coroner) because of the many hundreds of redactions that have been made by the Chief Constable of the PSNI and by the Security Services.”

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 Inquest 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 (Mal McCann)