Jeff Dudgeon: Inquest orders and Soldier F ruling flag up legacy imbalance

On Tuesday yet another batch of legacy inquests was ordered into Troubles killings by loyalists or the security forces.

By Jeff Dudgeon
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 3:47 pm
There is little scrutiny of IRA massacres such as the bomb outside the News Letter 50 years ago, in which seven people died
There is little scrutiny of IRA massacres such as the bomb outside the News Letter 50 years ago, in which seven people died

This adds a fresh layer to the sense that the past is examined in a grossly unbalanced way.

The inquest announcement came a day before yesterday’s ruling by the lord chief justice to quash a decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute Soldier F over Bloody Sunday.

Meanwhile there is little scrutiny of IRA massacres such as the bomb outside the News Letter 50 years ago, in which seven people died.

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Jeff Dudgeon said the current system on legacy means that relatives of those killed by terrorists are getting nothing at all

Also, there are no prosecutions pending of leading terrorists.

Paramilitaries have benefited from multiple partial or de facto amnesties such as the Belfast Agreement release of prisoners after two years; the On-the-Run letters of comfort; and Royal Prerogative of Mercy pardons. There has also been an amnesty, so described in the legislation, in relation to forensic evidence obtained from decommissioned weapons; evidence obtained from the bodies of the disappeared was prohibited from court use, while prosecution indemnities were provided for witnesses giving evidence at the Saville tribunal into Bloody Sunday and in other public inquiries.

Then there were agreements made in 1999 between Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair not to proceed with Troubles prosecutions or extraditions, and the non-investigation into the huge numbers of people involved in 16,000 bombings and the 37,000 Toubles shootings which did not involve deaths.

Yet there is uproar at any hint of an amnesty that might benefit the security forces.

And inquests into deaths that involve allegations against security forces keep coming.

Unless the government actually legislates, as it has promised, to end all re-investigations including inquests and civil suits, these inquests will proceed, as will others not yet agreed for re-opening.

We should be told of the projected cost of each re-opened inquest to be able to judge their efficacy.

As we know, 40% of people in a recent opinion poll favoured drawing a line on the past which is a high number. That should enable the NIO to pursue its policy despite local party opposition. The five parties however agree on nothing else in legacy.

To get a sense of the confusion around legacy, consider the Judicial Communications Office (JCO) press statement announcing the new inquests, which was highly misleading. It said in notes: “An inquest is an inquiry into the circumstances of a death. The purpose of the inquest is to find out who the deceased person was and how, when and where they died and to provide the details needed for their death to be registered.

“It is not a trial. It is not for the coroner to decide, or appear to decide, any question of criminal or civil liability or to apportion guilt or attribute blame.

Yet it contradicts itself in that it states inquests in order to be ECHR ‘Article 2 compliant’ “must be capable of leading to a determination of whether any force used was justified and to the identification and punishment of those responsible for the death”.

Nor has this statement been updated to take account of the Supreme Court decision in McQuillan which permits the authorities to decide not to reinvestigate Troubles deaths.

In this way, relatives are being promised something that can and will not be delivered while the JCO interpretation does not allow for the possibility that the death concerned may not have involved an illegal act.

All the while, relatives of those killed by terrorists are getting nothing at all.