Plan to resolve inquest delays

Steven Colwell's brother Neil with his wife Alison with their solicitor Paddy Murray.
Steven Colwell's brother Neil with his wife Alison with their solicitor Paddy Murray.

Legal challenges by the families of five men killed by either police, soldiers or loyalist paramilitaries over inquest delays are expected to be resolved, it emerged yesterday.

The High Court was told of a proposal for dealing with all of the cases, which include the first man to be shot dead by the PSNI.

Counsel for the Department of Justice revealed the development as a two-day judicial review hearing was set to get under way.

Proceedings were then adjourned for four weeks to try and deal with all outstanding issues, including claims for damages.

Relatives issued proceedings against the coroner and either the PSNI, Police Ombudsman’s Office or Ministry of Defence.

Lawyers for all five families claim their human rights have been breached by the failure to examine the circumstances surrounding each death as soon as possible.

They are seeking a High Court declaration that systemic delays have occurred and an order that immediate dates be set for the inquests.

The earliest killing under scrutiny is that of Michael Ryan. He was one of three IRA men ambushed and shot dead by the SAS in Coagh, Co Tyrone, in June 1991.

A similar application has been brought on behalf of Catholic man Fergal McCusker. The 28-year-old was kidnapped and shot dead in Maghera, Co Londonderry, by loyalist paramilitaries in January 1998.

Relatives of Neil McConville, 21, the first person killed by the PSNI, are also challenging the inquest situation. Mr McConville, from Bleary, Co Armagh, was shot following a car chase in April 2003.

Two further police-related deaths are to be examined as well. James McMenamin, 29, died after he was knocked down by a PSNI Land Rover on Belfast’s Springfield Road in June 2005.

Nearly a year later Steven Colwell, 23, was shot dead by police after he failed to stop in a stolen car at a checkpoint in Ballynahinch, Co Down, in April 2006.

Outside the court Steven Colwell’s brother Neil insisted: “We have been waiting eight years for an inquest which is outright, and it’s been denied to us by stumbling blocks put in front of us.” Mr Colwell, from the Shankill area of Belfast, insisted he would be seeking compensation on behalf of his dead brother’s son Jordan.