PSNI to go to Supreme Court to challenge independence rulings

The chief constable is set to go to the Supreme Court to challenge rulings over the independence of investigations into Troubles killings.

Thursday, 21st November 2019, 4:12 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st November 2019, 6:10 pm
Two of the hooded men Francis McGuigan and Liam Shannon pictured outside the High Court in Belfast with members of their legal team.

Senior judges granted leave to appeal a decision that the force has not shown the practical impartiality for a new probe into the suspected military shooting of a woman in west Belfast 47 years ago.

Justices in London may also be asked to examine verdicts in the cases of the Hooded Men and the Glenanne Gang series of murders.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Mogan said: “This is really designed to ensure the law in relation to the independence of the police is clarified.”

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Police sought permission to mount challenges to the UK’s highest court following decisions reached in three legacy-related proceedings.

In March the Court of Appeal held the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) lacked the required independence to carry out further investigations into the death of Jean Smyth.

The 24-year-old mother of one was killed by a single shot to the head on the Glen Road in June 1972.

At the time the RUC informed her family that it was probably an IRA gunman who opened fire.

But records uncovered at the National Archives in Kew, London in 2014 suggest the Army’s Military Reaction Force (MRF) were allegedly involved in her killing.

It was stressed during court hearings that Mrs Smyth was a wholly innocent person.

Counsel for the family had argued that fresh evidence links the British state’s own agents to the killing of one of its citizens.

Leave to appeal the judgment was granted due to the establishment of a point of law of general public importance.

“The most pressing point is the independence point, because it cuts across a number of these cases,” Sir Declan said.

Similar applications were brought in two other cases involving a series of loyalist murders and alleged torture at the hands of security forces.

In July the Court of Appeal ruled that bereaved relatives are being denied their legitimate expectation that an independent police team will oversee a probe into the activities of the so-called Glenanne Gang.

Judges said the onus was on the chief constable to consider whether to complete and publish a thematic report, with independent officers appointed to decide how to respond to the expectation.

Proceedings were brought by Edward Barnard, whose 13-year-old brother Patrick was among four people killed in a St Patrick’s Day bombing in Dungannon in March, 1976.

Five years later Dungannon UVF member Garnet James Busby received a life sentence after admitting his role in the attack and other terror offences.

Up to 120 murders in nearly 90 incidents in Mid Ulster and Irish border areas are under scrutiny.

They include outrages such as the 1975 Miami Showband Massacre. It has also been linked to the murder of 33 people in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

A draft HET report into alleged security force collaboration with the killers was said to have been 80% finalised before being shelved.

In a third case, the Court of Appeal ruled in September that interrogation techniques used against the Hooded Men would be torture if deployed today.

Senior judges also held that the group had a legitimate expectation police would further investigate claims their treatment in 1971 was sanctioned by the British Government.

Although Sir Declan formally declined to grant leave to appeal in both the Hooded Men and Glenanne cases, he indicated that it was because permission was being given in proceedings relating to the death of Mrs Smyth.

“We are going to leave it to the Supreme Court to decide whether to take these cases in as well,” he added.

Lawyers for the PSNI will now consider if they should petition directly to have all three of these legacy cases examined.