Northern Ireland

PSNI chief pressed over delays in supply of information to legacy inquests

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (Brian Lawless/PA)
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (Brian Lawless/PA)

Northern Ireland’s chief constable Jon Boutcher has been pressed over delays in the release of information to inquests into deaths during the Troubles.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said her party has “huge concerns” around the length of time the disclosure of information is taking to legacy inquests, which she said is causing delays to proceedings and frustrating families.

She raised the ongoing inquest into the death of GAA official Sean Brown, 61, who was abducted and killed by loyalists as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones Club in Co Derry in May 1997.

No one has been convicted of his murder.

His inquest began in March but has been delayed due to disclosure issues.

A number of legacy inquests are currently at hearing against the backdrop of the Government’s new Legacy Act, which states that any legacy inquests that have not reached the point of verdict by May 1 2024 will be discontinued.

Counsel for the PSNI in a number of legacy inquests have argued that there is a huge demand for disclosure with limited resources to carry all the requests out.

Ms McDonald said: “To date the inquest has not been completed and now, more than 26 years after the killing, 18 new files of sensitive material have just been made available for review.

“Such delays are corroding wider community confidence.

“This is another defining moment for policing here, much has been done, but there is more to do, and all relevant bodies must work together to ensure that happens.”

Ms McDonald led a delegation from her party to meet with Mr Boutcher on Thursday.

The former Operation Kenova chief became PSNI chief constable in early November after the resignation of Simon Byrne following a string of controversies.

These included a critical High Court judgment which found that actions taken against the junior police officers were unlawful.

PSNI new chief constable
PSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher (PA)

It also said they had been disciplined over the policing of an event to remember an atrocity in Belfast during lockdown, to allay a threat that Sinn Fein could withdraw its support for policing.

Sinn Fein has said several times that there was no such threat.

Ms McDonald said she also emphasised to Mr Boutcher that rebuilding trust and confidence in policing with the community must be the number one priority.

“We wished Jon Boutcher well in his new role, and we look forward to working with him positively and constructively to ensure that people here have an effective and efficient policing service,” she said.

“The huge scale of the task in front of him must not be underestimated and there is clearly a job of work to be done to rebuild trust and confidence in the PSNI and that must be the number one priority.

“That includes rebuilding public confidence in policing with the community, but also rebuilding trust with PSNI officers, staff and their families following the huge data leaks.”

Ms McDonald added: “This is the time for all of us in political leadership, in the Policing Board and the PSNI to refocus on the task of delivering an efficient and effective policing service that works with and within the whole community impartially.”