Coroner ‘firmly committed’ inquest into murder of GAA official Sean Brown will go ahead

Sean Brown, 61, was abducted and killed by loyalists as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones Club in Co Derry in May 1997.

A coroner has said he is firmly committed that an inquest into the murder of GAA official Sean Brown will take place despite being told that a substantial amount of police material has recently been uncovered. Justice Patrick Kinney said it was “amazing” that the PSNI seemed to have “misplaced” 18 folders of sensitive material about the killing which have now been made available. Mr Brown, 61, was abducted and killed by loyalists as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones Club in Co Londonderry in May 1997.

No-one has been convicted of his murder. His inquest began in March and is scheduled to resume next January. The inquest proceedings are taking place against the backdrop of the Government’s new legacy act, which states that any legacy inquests which have not reached the point of verdict by May 1 2024 will be discontinued. Members of Mr Brown’s family attended the latest review hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast on Monday. Opening the hearing, counsel for the coroner Joseph Aiken KC updated the court on the disclosure process for sensitive material from state agencies. He said: “The aspect that has been causing the most problems in this inquest is the PSNI sensitive material. “You were told at the last review there was further material that your representatives needed to consider, that it was three folders and possibly a fourth and work was ongoing to make that material available to be considered.” Mr Aiken said he had gone to view the material on Friday. “It was something of a shock for me to find that it wasn’t three or four folders of material, but in fact 18 folders of material that I needed to deal with,” he added. He said work was continuing to review the material as quickly as possible ahead of a public immunity interest (PII) application. Representing the police, PSNI barrister Mark Robinson KC said: “On the last occasion it was indicated that further searches may produce one further folder. “Due to the broad nature of the searches further material was gathered through that process.” Representing the Brown family, Des Fahy KC said every time a stone was turned over in the case, more material was uncovered. He said: “Obviously our desire is that all available material is disseminated to all the properly interested parties to this inquest. “But clearly there has to be some finality to this. We can’t come to each preliminary hearing and be told a significant body of further material has been identified and uncovered otherwise we are going to run into timetabling difficulties.” He added: “It seems that up to this point the searches that have been conducted have not been sufficiently comprehensive. “What I am asking on the family’s behalf is that you are given the appropriate assurances that an endpoint to this process is reached otherwise we are in a hamster wheel whereby every time we come there is more work to do.” He said the January date for the inquest resumption must be “set in stone”. Mr Justice Kinney said he was not entirely sure whether he should be criticising or congratulating the police service. He added: “I did say at the last review that I wanted to have any further documents disclosed and I expressed some incredulity that it has taken so many years, to be still so unsure as to what material and information is being held. “There is a context to all of this. It was accepted by all the parties that this would be ready for PII by early September and now we have moved into October and I am finding that frankly the police seem to be taken as much by surprise as the rest of us by the volume of materials that they are now finding. “How you misplace in terms, 18 folders, is amazing.” The coroner added: “I need to know this is the end of the line and I need an assurance by the next review that there has been appropriate due diligence and there are no further materials which are as yet undiscovered. “This inquest is listed. I am firmly committed to making sure this inquest will take place.” There will be another review in the case on October 16.

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