O’Dowd demand over IRA inquest

UPPER Bann Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd has called for the completion of an inquest into the deaths of three IRA men killed by the RUC near Lurgan in 1982.

Speaking at an event in Lurgan on Sunday, held exactly 30 years after the men’s deaths, Mr Dowd accused the authorities of stopping the families of Gervase McKerr, Eugene Toman and Sean Burns obtaining the truth.

The IRA men were in a Ford Escort which police fired 109 shots into in Lurgan on November 11, 1982.

McKerr was driving a vehicle which police opened fire on and chased after it crashed through a roadblock.

It was claimed that Burns and Toman were suspected of involvement in the murder of three RUC men a fortnight earlier, and had been under observation.

But the families of the dead men strongly disputed the police version of events and the controversy led to an internal investigation.

Three policemen were charged with murdering the IRA men but were acquitted by Lord Justice Gibson, who said after hearing the Crown’s case that he found the men “absolutely blameless”.

The inquest into the deaths has been hit by a number of legal wrangles.

Senior coroner John Lecky ordered that a report into the killings by Greater Manchester Police Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker and Sir Colin Sampson of the West Yorkshire Police be made available to the families of McKerr, Toman and Burns. But the PSNI have yet to release it.

“The families of these men have campaigned for three decades to have the inquest into the deaths of their loved ones completed. They have had to contend with 30 years of State obstruction and manufactured delays,” said Mr O’Dowd.

“They have brought their case before a multitude of courts, including the European Courts, and though all found in favour of the families’ right to an open transparent inquest procedure, there is still no end in sight.”

Mr O’Dowd said PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott should end what he called the “injustice being perpetrated against the families”.

He added, “The latest revelation, that the Stalker/Sampson report, which the courts ordered the authorities to make available to the families, is being redacted by former RUC Special Branch members, is yet another example of the ‘agenda of the past’ being used to stifle progress in this inquest.

“The Chief Constable must act now and end the tactics of delay. He must ensure that the families and the broader community have confidence in the impartiality of those processing the Stalker/ Sampson Report, in short he must bring to an end the ‘agenda of the past’.”