Troubles inquests: Terror victims ‘feel marginalised’ as schedule of hearings announced

Victims of republican terrorism will feel “marginalised” after learning the schedule for inquests into so-called ‘legacy’ killings, a spokesman for Troubles victims has said.

Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 7:12 pm
The killing of Neil McConville in 2003 is among the first batch of inquests announced today

Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for a group representing thousands of Troubles victims, was speaking after the coroner announced the order in which several fresh inquests into legacy killings will be heard.

Presiding coroner Mrs Justice Keegan announced the planned sequence at Belfast Coroner’s Court, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice, today.

Mrs Justice Keegan emphasised that no legacy inquest is “more important or of greater priority than any other”.

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The senior judge also cautioned that the outstanding cases represent a “very small proportion” of the overall number of Troubles-related deaths, and pointed out that a coroner has no control over which deaths are reported or referred for coronial investigation.

The majority of those inquests scheduled for the first year involve killings with some connection to the state.

Mr Donaldson, speaking on behalf of Innocent Victims United, said: “Many innocent victims and survivors of terrorism, and particularly those impacted by republican terrorist organisations, will feel further marginalised when they read this statement from Lady Justice Keegan.”

He continued: “Yes, it is true that as presiding coroner that she can only work with the caseload in front of her but this will be of little comfort to the hundreds upon hundreds of innocent victims impacted by republican violence”.

The first three inquests to be held between April 2020 and April 2021 will be the deaths of 10-year-old Stephen Geddis, who was hit by a plastic bullet in 1975, Neil McConville, who was shot near Lisburn in April 2003, and Thomas Friel, who was hit by a rubber bullet in Creggan in 1973.

Inquests into the killings of GAA official Sean Brown in Bellaghy in 1997 and Patrick McElhone from Pomeroy, who had special needs, in August 1974 are scheduled for the second quarter of the year.

Inquests into the deaths of Gareth Paul O’Connor, who disappeared in 2003 before his body was found in Newry canal two years later, and teenager Leo Norney in west Belfast in 1975 will take place in the third quarter.

The final inquests to be listed for year one include the killings of William Fleming and Daniel Doherty in Londonderry in 1984, Thomas Mills in west Belfast in 1972, and teenager Patrick Crawford in the grounds of the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1975.

Mrs Justice Keegan also announced plans to link a number of other outstanding deaths into groupings, including those attributed to loyalist paramilitaries in the Mid Ulster area between 1990 and 2000 as well as deaths where it appears there is a link to undercover soldiers.