Northern Ireland’s chief constable has robustly denied a claim the police are shielding the loyalist killers of a GAA official to protect security force informers.
George Hamilton rejected the allegation outlined by Policing Board member Dolores Kelly in relation to the murder of Sean Brown almost 20 years ago.
The 61-year-old was abducted and shot by loyalist paramilitaries after locking up a GAA club in Bellaghy, Co Londonderry, in May 1997.
No one has been convicted of the murder and a long-delayed inquest in to the death has been dogged by delays in the disclosure of police documents to the coroner, with associated controversy over the extent to which the files are blanked out on security grounds.
SDLP representative Mrs Kelly claimed the police’s handling of the inquest heightened suspicions that they had something to hide.
“There is a widely-held belief that there were members of that gang that were informers,” she said.
“There is widely-held perception that in that case and others that some people are being protected.”
Addressing Mrs Kelly and other Policing Board members at their monthly meeting in Belfast, Mr Hamilton said there was “no evidence” to support her claim that informers were being shielded and stressed that was also the finding of a Police Ombudsman investigation over a decade ago.
He challenged anyone with any new information to bring it to the PSNI or Police Ombudsman.
“Let me be absolutely clear, in a liberal democracy such as ours, no one is above the law,” he said.
The chief constable added: “To bring a charge for murder, we need credible evidence including forensics; and we need information and statements from members of the public. If we have been unable to press a charge for a murder or indeed any crime - it is not because we are ‘shielding’ anyone - it is because we have not yet been able to build a case that meets the very high threshold for a prosecution.”
Northern Ireland’s senior coroner John Leckey has heavily criticised the police’s handling of the disclosure process.
Mr Hamilton said the police were working to address the issues impacting the inquest.
“I cannot imagine the pain that the Brown family have been caused, not only by the lack of justice for the loss of their loved one, but by the delay that they have suffered during the on-going Inquest,” he said.
“For those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, the past is the present as they live every day with the pain of their loss.”