Inquests into Troubles deaths will be halted because 'no money is available to appoint investigators'
Inquests into deaths during the conflict in Northern Ireland will be halted because no money is available to appoint investigators, the senior coroner said.
Senior coroner John Leckey wants to employ specialists to hunt for information about killings during 30 years of violence.
But Stormont's justice minister has been aware of the problem for years and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said nobody is available to undertake the task, a Belfast preliminary hearing of an inquest into one of the deaths was told.
Mr Leckey said: "The effect of this is that this and other inquests will come to a halt."
He presided over a preliminary hearing of an inquest into the loyalist shooting of Seamus Patrick Dillon in December 1997.
Mr Dillon, 45, a former paramilitary prisoner and father-of-three from Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, was killed hours after Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader Billy Wright was gunned down inside the Maze prison and it was seen as a revenge strike by the loyalist's associates.
An inquest into Mr Dillon's death had been scheduled to start last November. A gun used in the murder of the hotel doorman has been linked to other terrorist atrocities, previous hearings at the coroner's court have heard.
Before Christmas Northern Ireland politicians signed the cross-party Stormont House Agreement which envisaged a new independent body to take forward investigations into outstanding Troubles-related deaths.
PSNI chief constable George Hamilton has said it could be two years before it starts work because legislation has to be passed.
A lawyer for the chief constable wrote to the coroner's service earlier this year and said the PSNI was unable to assist with re-interviewing a number of individuals who would be interested parties in the Dillon inquest.
The coroner's service does not have any investigating officers.
Barrister for the coroner Gerry McAlinden QC said: "The situation is at an impasse, the logjam is with the Executive to properly resource your office to ensure that your investigations can proceed and that these long-overdue inquests can be heard."
Mr Leckey said he was not unsympathetic to the police's position.
"We have wanted our own coroner's investigators who would be able to undertake that task. It is preferable to have our own rather than ask an agency such as the PSNI which has other resource difficulties to do something for us."
In the Dillon case the coroner is seeking to have a potential witness interviewed who says his car was taken.
Mr McAlinden said: "This car was used in the killing."
He has been refused legal aid to appear at the inquest, the lawyer added.
"It really does leave us in a situation where in order to deal properly with the circumstances of the death of Mr Dillon it is quite clear that some further investigation and statement-taking is required but at present the facilities to conduct that investigation don't exist and short of significant effort being put into this issue by the Executive, by the appropriate minister in the Executive, I cannot see how this particular problem will be resolved in the short term.
"There are a series of other inquests where investigating officers are necessary, simply the resources are not there to enable you to do so.
"The (Justice) Department was made aware of what was needed some years ago."
Mark Mulholland, barrister for the Dillon family, expressed grave concern.
"It is of utmost necessity that we seek to keep some form of momentum on this process."