Ex-officers accused of withholding documents

FORMER RUC officers are trying to withhold court documents linked to an investigation into a police shooting in Lurgan and Armagh 30 years ago creating a potential conflict of interest, a preliminary inquest hearing has been told.

Lawyers representing families of several IRA men killed at around the same time - amid claims of a shoot-to-kill policy - are seeking to obtain court transcripts.

The inquests are into the deaths of five IRA men and a Catholic teenager, shot dead in controversial circumstances in Lurgan and Armagh in 1982.

Barry MacDonald QC claimed police are attempting to redact some of the transcripts. “This is effectively an attempt to confiscate material that is already in the public domain, that is a matter of public record. That creates a potential conflict of interest,” he said.

“Those people involved in this process are people who apparently themselves were members of that organisation which was responsible for the deaths of those people and may even have been members of the same unit,” Mr MacDonald said. “There must be issues about conflict of interest, independence of process, which would have to be addressed.”

A police barrister said there was independent oversight, including from Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and the coroner himself.

Senior coroner John Leckey is investigating the 1982 deaths of IRA men Eugene Toman, 21, Sean Burns, 21, and Gervaise McKerr, 31, near Lurgan. Police fired 109 bullets into the car the three IRA men were travelling in after they claimed it crashed through a checkpoint. It later emerged the three were suspected of involvement in the killings of three RUC officers in a bomb attack a fortnight earlier and had been under observation.

Mr Leckey also plans inquests into the deaths of teenage civilian Michael Tighe, 17, shot dead by the RUC at a hay shed where rifles were being stored near Craigavon in November 1982; and suspected Irish National Liberation Army men Roddy Carroll, 22, and Seamus Grew, 31, who were shot dead near Armagh in December 1982.

An investigation into whether police planned to kill them was carried out by former Greater Manchester Police deputy chief constable John Stalker and Sir Colin Sampson of West Yorkshire Police. The Stalker and Sampson reports were never made public.

The coroner is also investigating the deaths of Sergeant John Quinn, 37, Constable Alan McCloy, 34, and Constable Paul Hamilton, 26. The RUC officers were killed by an IRA bomb which exploded beneath their armoured police car as they investigated a report of a robbery in Lurgan.