Northern Ireland

Family of Sean Brown being ‘retraumatised’ as inquest is delayed

The widow of murdered GAA official Sean Brown, Bridie Brown holds a picture of her late husband with their daughters and son, (left to right) Clare Loughran, Siobhan Brown and Sean Brown (Liam McBurney/PA)
The widow of murdered GAA official Sean Brown, Bridie Brown holds a picture of her late husband with their daughters and son, (left to right) Clare Loughran, Siobhan Brown and Sean Brown (Liam McBurney/PA) The widow of murdered GAA official Sean Brown, Bridie Brown holds a picture of her late husband with their daughters and son, (left to right) Clare Loughran, Siobhan Brown and Sean Brown (Liam McBurney/PA)

The family of a murdered GAA official are being “retraumatised” by ongoing delays in police making sensitive material available to an inquest into the death, a court has heard.

A barrister representing the family of Sean Brown said their treatment by state agencies was a “public shame and a public disgrace”.

Des Fahy KC also said it was impossible for the Brown family to escape the conclusion that the state parties are “running down the clock” ahead of a cut-off point for legacy inquests imposed by new Government legislation.

Belfast High Court was told on Friday that the inquest cannot now resume in January as scheduled.

Mr Brown, 61, 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 and had been scheduled to resume in January.

The proceedings are taking place 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.

Mr Brown’s widow Bridie attended the latest review hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

Ahead of the inquest resuming, material relating to the murder must be security-vetted and distributed to the legal parties involved.

A separate hearing will be needed to consider any applications made by police or the security services to redact evidence on PII grounds.

Counsel for the coroner Joseph Aiken KC told the court that the PSNI had given an update on the PII process in a closed hearing.

PSNI new chief constable
PSNI new chief constable The hearing heard that PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher was ‘absolutely committed’ to assisting the court (Liam McBurney/PA)

He said it was now apparent that the hearing could not resume as planned on January 8.

Representing the PSNI, Mark Robinson KC said Chief Constable Jon Boutcher is “absolutely committed” to assisting the court.

He said an initial tranche of sensitive material in the case would be considered by Mr Boutcher on December 11, allowing a PII hearing to take place in January.

Mr Robinson added: “We say that material will include matters of significance and will assist the court in its decision-making process as to whether or not the inquest is to continue.”

Mr Fahy said there had been a “degree of inevitability” about the further delay in the proceedings.

He added: “Nevertheless, to hear this morning that the date for the resumption of the inquest is not going to be met is something that is profoundly disappointing and upsetting for the Brown family to hear.

“We have now reached a stage in this process where what is happening is re-traumatising the family, 26 years after the murder of Sean Brown.

“The responsibility, the Brown family feel, lies solely with the state parties and their treatment by the state parties is a matter of public shame and public disgrace.

“It is impossible for the Brown family to escape the conclusion that the state parties are running down the clock so we do not have sufficient court time to hear this inquest by the cut-off date.”

Sean Brown inquest
Sean Brown inquest Bridie Brown, the widow of murdered GAA official Sean Brown, holding a picture of him at a previous hearing (Liam McBurney/PA)

Coroner Mr Justice Kinney said he now finally had a timetable to start consideration of PII matters.

He added: “I think it is very regrettable and frustrating we are in this position.

“It is also abundantly clear that the oral hearing cannot proceed in January so I am going to remove it from the list.”

The coroner said he was not prepared to let the case “sit in limbo”.

He added: “We are potentially in difficulties because of the guillotine imposed by the legislation.”

Mr Justice Kinney said the inquest would be rescheduled to resume on March 4 and would sit for four weeks.

He added: “I will not be looking at people’s other commitments or diary commitments, this will take priority.”

He said another review would be held on December 8.