Tuesday 16 January 2018

Dissident republican inquest may be 'derailed'

Lesley-Anne McKeown

An inquest into the death of a dissident republican murdered because he was a suspected police informant could be "derailed" a coroner's court was told today.

The inquest into the death of Gareth O'Connor whose decomposed body was found inside a car in Newry Canal in June 2005 is facing significant delay because his family want to see sensitive police papers which identify people linked to the killing.

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

It is believed he was abducted and killed by the IRA.

Gerry McAlinden, barrister for the Coroner's Service said naming certain individuals could put them at risk of death or assault and under the State's duty to protect life each person had to be given an opportunity to challenge the disclosure.

He said: "If their names may be revealed through the process of this investigation, you (coroner) have to allow them to know in advance that such disclosure is going to take place and thereafter allow them to make representation to you (coroner) in advance.

"This procedure has the potential to derail the timescale of this inquest but it is a procedure that has to be gone through."

A non jury inquest is scheduled for November but Mr McAlinden raised concerns that timescale could slip.

He added: "The process that we are about to engage in is dependent on funding; it is dependent on resourcing and it is dependent on the reaction of those individuals. My concern is that it may well jeopardise the date of this hearing."

The preliminary hearing in Mays Chambers in Belfast also heard three possible scenarios which could have resulted in Mr O'Connor's death - an investment that turned out to be a scam; that he was a police informant; or that he was involved in a disagreement with certain individuals.

Solicitor Paul Dougan said the O'Connor family did not want to engage in a "witch hunt" but believed disclosure of the names could provide clarity around the circumstances of his death.

"The family do not want to cause inordinate expense or delay," said Mr Dougan.

He also claimed the family would have to accept the limited scope of an inquest in establishing whether or not Mr O'Connor was killed because he was a police informant.

"If the scope cannot determine whether he was or was not or whether those who killed him were motivated by that, maybe that's as good as it gets," added Mr Dougan.

A request was made for the PSNI to inform individuals their names could be released through the court process. However, Ken Boyd, solicitor of the PSNI, said it was not the duty of the police to provide legal advice on the infringement of rights.

"These individuals are not under threat. These individuals might not even know their names are on these papers. The police will not engage on such an exercise," he said.

Coroner John Leckey said he would have to write to the justice minister to raise resourcing issues.

He said: "The Coroner's Service is not resourced to undertake this task. It just does not have the capacity.

"I will write and advise the Minister for Justice of this resources issue."

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