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Friday 29 August 2014

Family of murdered father-of-two dumped in canal urge police to disclose mobile phone evidence

Published 31/01/2014 | 12:18

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The family of a murdered father of two who was dumped in Newry canal have urged police to disclose mobile phone evidence related to the investigation.

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A lawyer for relatives of Gareth O'Connor asked for sight of the call records at a pre-inquest hearing in Belfast's coroner's court, claiming the data represented a "significant" element of the case.

Mr O'Connor's badly decomposed body was found inside a car at Victoria Lock, Newry, in June 2005, with republican paramilitaries suspected of involvement in his death.

The 24-year-old, from Knockamell Park, Armagh, disappeared in May 2003 on his way to sign bail at a Dundalk Garda station in the Irish Republic.

He had been charged in the Republic with membership of the dissident republican group the Real IRA the previous year. His family allege he was murdered by the Provisional IRA - a claim the organisation denied at the time of his disappearance.

A previous preliminary inquest hearing was told that his killers may have suspected him of being a police informant.

At the latest hearing in Belfast, the court was updated on the progress of the police's delayed efforts to disclose documents relating to the case to the court.

Paul Dougan, representing the O'Connor family, expressed concern that there had been no indication whether phone records would be handed over to the relatives.

"It has always been the family's belief that mobile phone evidence was a significant issue in this case," he said.

Addressing Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey, Mr Dougan added: "If there has been mobile phone evidence provided to you, it certainly has not been provided to the family."

Mark Robinson, representing the PSNI, agreed to provide Mr Dougan with an explanation of what phone evidence was available next month.

Mr Robinson said he would also update the court within two weeks on the final stages of security checks being carried out on the police files relating to the case.

The inquest into the killing was due to go ahead next month, but in December the provisional start date was scrapped after the PSNI revealed that a number of additional documents had been discovered in police storage.

Mr Leckey has indicated that it is unlikely the probe will happen this year unless his packed schedule is freed up by a hitch to another inquest.

Last year officers were checking and cross referencing 30 lever arch files linked to the murder - running to 12,000 pages - when they discovered that a batch of additional relevant material was in storage in Gough barracks in Armagh.

The schedule was subsequently pushed back due to the need to security vet those files - which incorporated 720 pages and photo albums - as some of it had been deemed "sensitive".

Mr Robinson told Mr Leckey that the public-interest immunity (PII) exercise being carried out on the documentation was anticipated to be officially signed off within two weeks.

The coroner asked for written confirmation that the process was completed by February 20.

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