A lawyer for the family of murdered GAA official Sean Brown has described their treatment as a ‘public shame and disgrace’ after it emerged the resumption of his inquest has been put back due to PSNI disclosure delays.
Fresh concerns have been raised about the approach of state agencies at an inquest hearing in Belfast on Friday.
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.
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 shocking murder.
Several key suspects are believed have been state agents.
The inquest, which opened in March, has been held up due to PSNI delays in producing vital information.
During Friday’s hearing, coroner Patrick Kinney said he would be unable to resume the inquest in January adding it will now go ahead in March.
Barrister for the Brown family, Des Fahy KC, spoke of their disappointment at the latest set-back.
“There has been for a period of time a degree of inevitability about this but never-the-less to hear 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,” he said.
“We have now reached a stage in this process where what is happening is retraumatising the family 26 years after the murder of Sean Brown.”
And he added: “Yesterday, a year ago, this inquest was tod by me that the delays the Brown family considered were intolerable,” he said.
“One year and one day forward from that review on November 30, 2022, we have still not completed the PII process, which you had timetabled.”
Mr Fahy said the Brown family have no doubt who is to blame for the hold-up.
“The responsibility, to be clear about this, the responsibility the Brown family feel lies solely with the state parties and their treatment by the state parties in my respectful submission 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 cutoff date.”
Addressing the coroner Mr Fahy said it “appears that the delay that has been built into the process by the state parties is going to frustrate your best intentions”.
“And, as I say that is a matter for profound disappointment for the Brown family that that date in January is not going to be met.”
At an hearing last week the PSNI suggested that an inquest is not an “appropriate vehicle” for continuing the investigation into Mr Brown’s death and said they would not object to a public inquiry.
Part of the delay is down to a failure by the PSNI to produce material that may be subject to Public Immunity Interest (PII) certificates.
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 Public Immunity Interest (PII) certificate in relation to material provided by The Security Service, which is also known as MI5.
During Friday’s hearing it was heard that PSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher has taken “a personal interest” in the inquest.
A lawyer for the PSNI and Northern Ireland Office told the coroner they intend to provide “a tranche of sensitive materials”, which will include “matters of significance and will assist the court in its decision-making process in relation to whether or not the inquest is to continue”.
He added that Mr Boutcher will review the material on December 11, or earlier if it is available.
He added that this material will then be conveyed to the NIO for consideration and that “time has been booked with a minister on 19 December”.
“It is anticipated that is the date on which a certificate will be issued,” he added.
Mr Fahy later raised concerns over continued references by the PSNI legal team to the inquest coming to an end.
“And it is a matter of continuing concern for me to hear counsel for the PSNI tell you this morning that it is still a matter at issue as to whether this inquest can proceed,” he said.
“This inquest, on your direction, is proceeding and that should be where all efforts and attentions are directed.
“We are wholly at a loss to understand why the chief constable would now be raising this matter again in relation to the viability of the inquest when you are case managing these inquests to conclusion.
“We are concerned that now has become a theme of the submissions of the chief constable to this inquest.”
The Brown family solicitor, Kevin Winters, of KRW Law, said: "Unfortunately the Brown family, like so many other conflict bereaved families, have had hopes of closure dashed.
"As far as the state is concerned, projected dates and timelines for court don’t really count for anything.
"It’s all just terribly retraumatising for them."