Police have been unable to prepare papers for a new inquest for a man shot dead by the British army at a Christmas dance due to pressures dealing with other legacy cases, a court has heard.
A lawyer for relatives of Joseph Parker told Belfast Coroner’s Court that the failure of the PSNI to provide any sort of timetable for disclosing files relating to the 1971 shooting in the north of the city was “entirely unsatisfactory”.
Mr Parker, a 25-year-old married father-of-one whose wife was expecting the couple’s second child when he died, was shot in disputed circumstances when soldiers opened fire at a community centre in the Ardoyne during a disco two weeks before Christmas.
The episode unfolded when troops entered Toby’s Hall, which no longer exists, claiming to be searching for a suspect.
Confrontations ensued and soldiers said they fired a series of shots into the roof and walls amid concerns for their safety - claims which were disputed by eye witnesses.
Mr Parker, from Eskdale Gardens in Ardoyne, who moments earlier had been dancing with his sister, was shot in both thighs. He died two days later.
Last year, Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin ordered a fresh inquest to be held after new, apparently conflicting, evidence emerged about the incident.
As proceedings got under way at a preliminary hearing on Monday, Ken Boyd, representing the PSNI, told coroner Jim Kitson that while some Ministry of Defence papers had been disclosed, police had not been able to start work preparing and security vetting files connected to its historic investigation of the shooting.
He said no progress had been made as the legacy unit within the PSNI that processes such files was snowed under with other cases.
“They have not commenced work on this particular case yet,” he said.
Fiona Doherty, representing Mr Parker’s family, criticised the PSNI’s stance.
“We haven’t been given any kind of time-scale as to when work might commence on this,” she said.
The lawyer suggested given the age of the case there might not be that many papers to process.
She added: “It really is unsatisfactory for these cases, which have been re-opened by the attorney general because of their importance, for the next of kin and members of public to attend these hearings and to be presented with a fait accompli.
“To be told ‘we don’t have enough time to do the work and we don’t know when we will be able to do the work’. It’s all problems and no solutions.
“From that point of view it’s entirely unsatisfactory.”
Mr Boyd noted that a number of other legacy cases had been officially prioritised by another coroner - a move that had hastened the disclosure of papers.
“It’s of assistance, if it finds favour with you and other coroners, if these cases can be prioritised because police know where to concentrate their efforts,” he said.
But Mr Boyd stressed that to prioritise one case would push timetables back in other inquest proceedings.
Mr Kitson acknowledged there were issues with placing a priority on one case at the expense of another.
“Every family and every relative of a deceased wish their case to have priority,” he said.
Mr Kitson acknowledged the legacy unit did not have infinite resources but he said he would need more detail on the scale of the pressures facing it if the PSNI wished to cite those to explain the lack of action.
“Really I would expect a more detailed response in terms of this at the next preliminary hearing if that resource argument is to be given as a reason why this case can’t proceed with any speed or expedition,” he said.
The coroner added: “Without being too critical we would need facts, figures and resources arguments as to why this case can’t proceed, if this is what the chief constable (Matt Baggott) is alleging.”
Mr Kitson asked for disclosure time-scales to be outlined at the next preliminary hearing in May.