Families of IRA men among those awarded compensation after inquest delays

The bullet-ridden and burnt out car in which three IRA men were shot dead by the SAS in Coagh in 1991.
The bullet-ridden and burnt out car in which three IRA men were shot dead by the SAS in Coagh in 1991.

The families of six men killed by either police, soldiers or loyalist paramilitaries are to be awarded £7,500 each in damages for unlawful delays in holding inquests, a High Court judge ruled on Tuesday.

Mr Justice Stephens held that compensation was necessary for the frustration, distress and anxiety suffered by the next of kin.

Belfast High Court Building

Belfast High Court Building

His landmark verdict could now open the floodgates for scores of other claims involving so-called legacy cases.

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

:: Pearse Jordan, the IRA man shot and killed by an RUC officer in Belfast in November 1992.

:: Michael Ryan, one of three IRA men ambushed and shot dead by the SAS in Coagh, County Tyrone, in June 1991.

:: Catholic man Fergal McCusker, who was kidnapped and shot dead in Maghera, County Londonderry, by loyalist paramilitaries in January 1998.

:: Neil McConville, the first person to be shot and killed by the PSNI following a car chase near Lisburn, Co Antrim in April 2003.

:: James McMenamin, who died after he was knocked down by a PSNI Land Rover on Belfast’s Springfield Road in June 2005.

:: Steven Colwell, who was shot dead by police after he failed to stop in a stolen car at a checkpoint in Ballynahinch, County Down, in April 2006.

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

In each of the cases it was argued that the state and the coroner breached their obligations to ensure prompt human rights-compliant investigations into the deaths.

Counsel for the Department of Justice featuring in the case as an umbrella state body, has already signalled that a proposal has been made to deal with the issues.

A protocol for disclosing documents to the coroner is believed to feature in the plans.

But with no confirmation on whether there was an entitlement to compensation it was left to the judge to decide.

According to Mr Justice Stephens the investigation into the death of a close relative impacts on the next of kin at a fundamental level of human dignity.

“It is obvious that if unlawful delays occur in an investigation into the death of a close relative that this will cause feelings of frustration, distress and anxiety to the next of kin,” he said.

“It would be remarkable if any applicant was emotionally indifferent as to whether there was a dilatory investigation into the death of their close relative and such emotional indifference would be entirely inconsistent with an applicant who seeks to obtain relief by way of judicial review proceedings.

“As a matter of domestic law it would be lamentable if a premium was placed on protestations of misery.

“At this level of respect for human existence and for the human dignity of the next of kin of those who have died there should be no call for a parade of personal unhappiness.”

He held that all of the applicants, regardless as to their age, must have suffered by the unlawful delays that have occurred.

Each of them is entitled to £7,500 in damages, the judge ruled.

Five of the pay-outs were made against the Department of Justice, while the verdict in the Jordan case was against the PSNI.