Resolving Troubles killings in everyone’s interest, says top judge

Rosemary Campbell, the widow of murdered RUC Sergeant Joseph Campbell, was in court to hear Lord Justice Weir's comments
Rosemary Campbell, the widow of murdered RUC Sergeant Joseph Campbell, was in court to hear Lord Justice Weir's comments

Solving controversial questions about Northern Ireland’s violent past will help the country move on, a judge said.

Lord Justice Weir has concluded a two-week review of dozens of the most highly-disputed legacy cases which are awaiting inquests decades after the killings took place.

They span allegations of security force misinformation to frame the IRA for bombings, state collusion in loyalist murders, inept police investigations, and IRA men shot dead by the army as part of a claimed policy of shooting to kill in which civilians were killed in the cross-fire.

Some cases could take years to proceed to full inquest, the review has heard, while others could be ready to begin within a year.

One inquest could be linked to more than 100 other murders.

Lack of money to search for and process documents has been a constant refrain from lawyers for the PSNI and watchdogs which scrutinise them as well as the Ministry of Defence, and Lord Justice Weir has posed serious questions to the Government about its resourcing of investigations into past murders.

He said: “The purpose of this was to try and break the logjam and move these cases along, which is in everyone’s interests, not just the next of kin but the people of Northern Ireland who want to see this chapter of life dealt with properly and put to rest.”

He addressed Rosemary Campbell, the widow of a Catholic police officer – father-of-eight Sergeant Joseph Campbell – who was shot dead as he closed a police station in 1977.

“You have had a long wait and I hope we can do something to move this on because it has gone on a long time – too long.”

The head of Northern Ireland’s judiciary, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, has asked Judge Weir to assess more than 50 stalled cases, relating to almost 100 deaths.

He is determining why they are still stuck in the coronial system, in some instances almost 45 years later, and identifying a sequence for hearing them.

The review ended with the case of RUC Sgt Campbell, who was shot dead as he closed Cushendall RUC station, which occupied a picturesque part of the Co Antrim coastline.

The Police Ombudsman has said the murder could have been prevented by senior RUC commanders.

But the watchdog said it did not believe the force colluded in the officer’s murder.

His son, Tommy Campbell, said: “We are extremely happy that the case has gotten some impetus and that the judge has asked the Coroner’s Court to pursue the Ministry of Defence for information and any records that they have.

“It is the first step in a long ladder.”