Police chiefs are in breach of a legal duty to carry out an effective investigation into a fatal loyalist gun attack on a village pub 30 years ago, the High Court has ruled.
A judge held that new material within a watchdog report and a documentary film which named suspects represents plausible evidence of significant state collusion in the shootings at the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo, Co Down.
One man, 42-year-old Peter McCormack, was murdered and three others were seriously wounded when a UVF gang burst in and opened fire during a darts tournament in November 1992.
Mr Justice Humphreys declared: “The state has failed to carry out an effective Article 2 or 3 (of the European Convention on Human Rights) compliant investigation into the attack within a reasonable time.”
The verdict came in a legal challenge mounted by a barman who narrowly avoided injury in the shooting.
John McEvoy, who developed post-traumatic stress disorder, brought judicial review proceedings against the PSNI Chief Constable for an alleged failure to ensure an independent, effective investigation.
His challenge was based on information he says points to collusion between members of the security forces and the UVF operating in the south Down area at that time.
It followed the publication in 2016 of a Police Ombudsman report into the Loughinisland massacre.
In that attack loyalist gunmen murdered six Catholic men watching a World Cup football match in June 1994.
A film on the Loughinisland killings which named suspects, No Stone Unturned, strengthens the case for a fully independent probe, it was contended.
Even though the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) is to re-examine the circumstances surrounding the Thierafurth Inn shootings, counsel for Mr McEvoy claimed there will be an unlawful delay stretching into years.
The court heard the attack was 542nd in a queue within the LIB’s case sequencing model (CSM), with no indication of when it will be considered due to limited resources.
Predicting that any investigation will not start for years to come, counsel for Mr McEvoy said two of the victims have died since the legal action commenced, heightening concerns that none of them will ever see justice.
He argued that suspects were named in the documentary, and that one referred to as Person A was identified as being allegedly linked to the Thierafurth Inn attack.
A newspaper article published earlier this year claimed another of those No Stone Unturned named in connection with the Loughinisland massacre, Person I, was given weapons training by a member of the British Army.
The current police plans breach of Article 2 rights under European law, it was alleged.
A barrister representing the Chief Constable insisted there was only an abstract suggestion of collusive behaviour which did not bear the hallmarks of other legacy cases.
According to the police case, the LIB has the capacity to put together an investigative team with no background in either the military or the RUC.
Ruling on the challenge, Mr Justice Humphreys said the new material casts real doubt on the ability of the original RUC investigation to bring those responsible to justice.
“I am satisfied that it is credible, relevant to the identification of perpetrators and capable of undermining previous conclusions,” he stated.
It goes beyond merely the addition of detail or the corroboration of what the applicant and others have previously believed since it represents plausible evidence, from authoritative sources, of significant state collusion in the events under consideration.”
The judge identified no evidence to suggest that the LIB investigation will be ineffective.
However, he pointed out that the new material has been in the public domain for up to six years without prompting any action by the state.
“For reasons of public confidence, as well as the individual rights of the applicant and others affected by this atrocity, that cannot be an acceptable state of affairs,” he said.
He concluded: “I am minded to make a declaration only since I am conscious that any mandatory order may result in other deserving investigations being denied or delayed.
“In light of the indication given by the respondent that a review is being carried out of the CSM taking into account the requirements of Article 2, declaratory relief ought to be an effective remedy for the breach which I have found.”
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