Northern Ireland

Relatives of Troubles victims fear they will never 'find out the truth'

Paul 'Topper' Thompson was shot dead in 1994
Paul 'Topper' Thompson was shot dead in 1994

The family of a Catholic man killed by loyalists almost 30 years ago believe they will never "find out the truth" after the British government revealed plans to end inquests.

An inquest into Paul 'Topper' Thompson opened in 1995 and was adjourned until April when the first evidence was heard.

He was shot dead by the UDA at Springfield Park in west Belfast in April 1994.

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Civilian witnesses provided evidence to the coroner in Banbridge this week.

Hours later the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) revealed amendments to the controversial Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

It is currently making its way through Westminster and is expected to become law soon.

The proposed legislation, which has been dubbed the ‘Bill of Shame' by some opponents, originally suggested only inquests that have reached substantive hearing stage a year after the bill would be allowed while civil cases have been stopped.

Immunity from prosecution will also be offered in some circumstances.

It has now emerged that only inquests that are verdict or findings stage by May next year will proceed.

Grieving relatives are now fearful that inquests already underway will be halted while others not yet started will be shelved.

Many of the pending inquests involve killings carried out by security forces and loyalist murder squads where collusion is suspected.

Mr Thompson was gunned down after UDA members cut a hole in a peace line fence close to a British army base to enter a nationalist area.

Hours earlier a neighbour reported a hole in the peaceline at Springfield Park to the RUC and NIO.

However, authorities failed to act.

It was later claimed that a number of cameras on the nearby Henry Taggart British army barracks were not working.

The gun used to kill him is believed to have been smuggled into the north by British intelligence in the late 1980s.

Eugene Thompson
Eugene Thompson

His brother, and only surviving next of kin, Eugene Thompson fears he will never get to the truth.

“I fear that having fought for so long that these changes to the law together with the delay tactics we have faced in getting disclosure mean that we may never find out the truth about what happened to my brother," he said. 

“Months after my brother’s murder there was an independent community inquiry with independent judges which found there was collusion in my brother’s death.

"We have battled this for nearly 30 years.” 

His solicitor Gemma McKeown, of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said "it is very concerning that hours after this inquest was heard the NIO introduced amendments to the....bill which would close down inquests not completed by May 2024.” 

Under the planned legislation the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), would take over legacy cases.

However, it is understood a large number of campaigning relatives have said they will not co-operate with the new body.

In a statement the NIO said the amendments will allow "ongoing criminal investigations, inquests, the consideration of prosecution decisions, and the publication of reports, to continue until May 2024, ensuring a smooth transition between the ending of the current mechanisms and the (ICRIR) taking on full responsibility for dealing with legacy cases".