The security threat posed to soldiers in Northern Ireland has cast fresh doubt on the venue for an inquest into the death of three IRA men shot by the SAS.
The trio were targeted in the village of Coagh, Co Tyrone, in June 1991 when elite troops opened fire on a stolen car.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) would like the inquest to be held in Belfast while the families of the dead men would prefer Dungannon, closer to where the killing happened, according to a family lawyer.
In either case the soldiers are likely to seek to have their identities protected amid a resurgence of the dissident republican campaign of violence.
Family barrister Fiona Doherty told the coroner: “We would strongly urge on you that the inquest should be held in Dungannon or at least closer to the location of the incident, otherwise it will make things very difficult for the family that I represent to attend as they wish to.
“If the (MoD) application is being made on the basis of some kind of threat or security issue relating to travel to Dungannon that is something that should be done properly to you and supported by a threat assessment.”
Lawrence McNally, 38, Peter Ryan, 37, and Tony Doris, 21, from Tyrone, were shot by the special forces as they travelled through Coagh in a stolen car.
The car burst into flames having been hit by around 200 bullets.
Legal issues including the screening of security forces witnesses and where the inquest will sit still have to be considered, the coroner’s court has heard. A date for the four-week full hearing has been set for September 1.
Members of the security forces face a substantial threat from dissident republicans opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland. Two soldiers were shot dead outside an army base in Antrim in 2009 hours before their intended departure for Afghanistan.
Army recruitment centres in England were targeted for suspected letter bombs earlier this month in an attack claimed by dissidents.
Applications for anonymity have been made for army witnesses giving evidence to similar inquests in Northern Ireland in the past.
Barrister for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Mark Robinson told the Belfast preliminary hearing previous inquests of this nature have been held at Belfast’s Laganside courthouse.
“The facilities there are second to none for the facilitation of witnesses,” he said.
MoD lawyers are to consider soon whether to apply for special authorisations allowing for screening and hiding the identity of sensitive soldier witnesses.
The Ministry’s barrister Peter Coll said no witness list had been drawn up and noted other state agencies were likely to be involved in an assessment of the threat facing soldier witnesses.
“We will try to ascertain from any other relevant state agency who may have a role to play in this assessment, what their timescale is for doing that,” he said.