Northern Ireland

Nuala O'Loan brands Sean Brown disclosure delays 'unjustifiable' and urges inquest to be completed

Baroness Nuala O'Loan
Baroness Nuala O'Loan Baroness Nuala O'Loan

Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O‘Loan has branded delays in handing over information to the Sean Brown inquest as “unjustifiable” and called for an inquest into his death to go ahead.

Her comments came just days after the PSNI claimed an inquest is not an “appropriate vehicle” for continuing the investigation into his death and said they would not object to a public inquiry.

The Brown family has rejected the PSNI’s latest intervention and said they want his inquest to be completed.

The inquest, which opened in March, has been held up due to PSNI disclosure delays.

Mr Brown (61) was attacked and beaten by an LVF gang as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC, Co Derry, in May 1997.

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Several key suspects in Sean Brown murder believed to be state agents

The scene where Sean Brown's body was found near Randelstown in Co. Antrim
The scene where Sean Brown's body was found near Randelstown in Co. Antrim The scene where Sean Brown's body was found near Randelstown in Co. Antrim

After he was placed in the boot of his own car, he was taken to a country lane outside Randalstown, Co Antrim, where he was shot six times.

Collusion is strongly suspected and no-one has ever been charged in connection with the brutal murder.

Several key suspects in his murder are believed to be state agents.

 Bridie Brown
Bridie Brown Bridie Brown

At an inquest hearing last week, coroner Patrick Kinney was told that Mr Brown’s 86-year-old widow Bridie was unable to attend due to her distress at the latest development.

Last month Mr Brown’s family called on recently appointed PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher to intervene after it was revealed that new information disclosed by the PSNI “raises issues in relation” to previous investigations into his killing.

Earlier a coroner had heard that 18 new files of PSNI sensitive information were recently made available for review.

The potentially relevant material arising from the review exercise amounts to “two files of material” the inquest hearing was told.

Mr Brown’s murder was investigated by police in 1997 and reviewed in 2004.

It was also investigated by the Police Ombudsman in 2004 along with the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team.

Lawyers for the PSNI were expected to present an update on progress around Public Immunity Interest (PII) certificates linked to the case at last week’s hearing.

PII certificates are used by state agencies to conceal information they don't want placed in the public domain.

Earlier this month it emerged that a Northern Ireland Office (NIO) minister, understood to be Steve Baker, issued a PII certificate in relation to material provided by The Security Service, which is another name for MI5.

Baroness Nuala O'Loan
Baroness Nuala O'Loan Baroness Nuala O'Loan

Mrs O’Loan, who oversaw the 2004 Police Ombudsman investigation, said the inquest should proceed.

“I find it very difficult to believe that this has happened after such a long time,” she said.

“The Brown family have been put through enough and they don’t need to be told to go away and get a public inquiry, what they need is an inquest.”

“I think it’s incumbent on the PSNI, and on the coroner’s court, to do all they can to provide the inquest to which the Browns are entitled and to do it in a timely way.”

Mrs O’Loan spoke of her shock over delays in disclosing new information.

“The delays in handing over material have been really, really, really shocking and unjustifiable, I think,” she said.

“It’s nearly 20 years since Hugh Orde (former PSNI chief constable) started gathering all the material together, so these delays, I think, are unacceptable."

It is not clear if the information recently produced by the PSNI was made available to Mrs O’Loan’s Police Ombudsman investigation.

“I don’t know what’s in it, so I don’t know whether it would have been relevant to my investigation, but I would suspect it may well have been,” Ms O’Loan said.

“Without knowing what it is, I can’t know whether I should have got it.

“If it has anything to do with the murder and how the police investigated the murder, if it was material which was not given to the murder investigation, then I would have very serious concerns that it wasn’t given to me.

“And when we were trying to find out what had happened during the murder investigation, we were unaware of it but I do not know what the material is so I can’t comment.”

Mr Brown’s inquest is one of several that will end if they are not at their findings stage by next May under the British government’s controversial Legacy Law.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, which passed into law in September, also provides immunity in some circumstances and ends civil cases.  

“It’s unfathomable that nearly 30 years after Sean Brown was murdered they are still recovering material which should have been available previously, and I really don’t understand how that could happen,” Mrs O’Loan said.

“But I have seen all these inquests and PSNI failure to produce the documents that the coroners are ordering, and I just think it’s totally unacceptable.

“It’s unacceptable that the Brown family should be put through this, it has been going on so many decades.

“They are entitled to an inquest and that inquest should occur, and it should not be lost by the Legacy Act.”

Solicitor Niall Murphy
Solicitor Niall Murphy Solicitor Niall Murphy

The Brown family solicitor, Niall Murphy, of KRW Law, said recent developments are of “grave concern”.

“We are told that there are two folders of highly sensitive intelligence that may not have been disclosed to the Police Ombudsman for Baroness O’Loan’s report in 2004, or indeed to her directed PSNI reinvestigation in 2004-2005,” he said.

“Our clients, the local community and the dignified memory of Sean Brown, deserve better.”

A spokesman for the PSNI said: "We are supporting the Coroner’s Service during this inquest and we will continue to do so. As this is the subject of ongoing inquest proceedings, it would be inappropriate for the police service to comment further at this time."