Opinion

Why the silence from some on Sean Brown? – Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy is an Irish News columnist and former director of Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education.

Murdered GAA official Sean Brown
Murdered GAA official Sean Brown Murdered GAA official Sean Brown

IT appears that we are not all equal before the law. Over half a century after the civil rights movement challenged political policing and 22 years after the claimed progress from a police force to a police service, the PSNI appears to be protecting secret agents who are apparently immune from prosecution.

Our police service is refusing to disclose information they have about loyalists who abducted and murdered Sean Brown as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC in May 1997.

A barrister for Mr Brown’s family has told an inquest into his death that there is a suspicion that the PSNI’s attitude “relates directly to the activities and protection of state agents and informers”.

Two new files of information about the murder, which are in the hands of the PSNI, were unlikely to have been disclosed to the then Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, in 2004.

The PSNI says it would provide its withheld information to a public inquiry, but only in a closed session. That would effectively make it a secret inquiry.

So it appears that the PSNI knows those who either have information about Mr Brown’s death and/or were involved in his killing. However, it is unwilling to bring them before the courts because they were working for the state at the time of the murder.

Read more:

  • Treatment by state of GAA official Sean Brown's family a 'public shame and disgrace'
  • The Irish News view: It is incredible that the PSNI says it is still discovering material linked to Bellaghy GAA official Mr Brown's murder
  • Nuala O'Loan brands Sean Brown disclosure delays 'unjustifiable' and urges inquest to be completed

In May 1969, just before the Troubles began, Samuel Devenny died after being severely beaten by the RUC in his own home in Derry. John Hume later said in the Commons that senior members of the RUC were protecting people who were guilty of criminal behaviour.

His condemnation of injustice then is in stark contrast to the more muted response from some of today’s politicians to the cover-up of Sean Brown’s death.

Bridie Brown, the widow of murdered GAA official Sean Brown, with family members and their legal team outside Belfast's High Court. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Bridie Brown, the widow of murdered GAA official Sean Brown, with family members and their legal team outside Belfast's High Court. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN Bridie Brown, the widow of murdered GAA official Sean Brown, with family members and their legal team outside Belfast's High Court. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

One Sinn Féin MLA has said that the Brown family are entitled to truth and justice, but the policing system which is denying that truth and justice is jointly governed by Sinn Féin.

When SF first joined the Policing Board, it said it “would not shy away from challenging, criticising and questioning policing decisions”. It claimed that political policing was a thing of the past and promised to “provide the voice for communities who have in the past experienced only bad policing”. Now would be a good time to fulfil those promises.

The reason the PSNI are dragging their feet on this issue is that the British government’s new legacy information states that any legacy inquests, which have not reached a verdict by May 1 next year, will be discontinued. After that date we will never know who murdered Sean Brown. So how far on are we since Sam Devenny’s death?

Read more:

  • Several key suspects in Sean Brown murder believed to be state agents
  • Brian Feeney: The British government, legacy and legalising lawlessness
  • Patricia Mac Bride: 50 years after Daddy's murder, families deserve a better legacy

Earlier this month it was revealed that the British security service MI5 had applied to withhold information from the inquest. A NI Office minister, understood to be Steve Baker, issued the Public Immunity Interest certificate.

SF has demanded that the Irish government should challenge Britain’s legacy law, but the party would not go into Westminster to challenge the bill before it became law. Meanwhile the PSNI is reported to be paying £1,000 a month to individual informers.

If every member of the Policing Board supports the use of taxpayers’ money in this way, do they believe that informers should be above the law? If not, why are some silent on the Sean Brown case?

They are ultimately responsible for policing behaviour and until they challenge the injustice of protecting state agents, we can only assume that political policing has not gone away you know.