Sean Brown killing suspect believed to be member of Royal Irish Regiment, court told

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

A suspect in the murder of a GAA official in 1997 is believed to be a serving member of the Royal Irish Regiment, a lawyer has told a court. A barrister for the family of Sean Brown has urged a coroner to “roll back” widespread redactions in sensitive evidence files about the killing, describing the current situation as “akin to looking for the light switch in a dark room”. 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 last year and is scheduled to resume in March. However, ahead of that, sensitive material relating to the murder must be security-vetted and distributed to the legal parties involved. Belfast High Court was told on Friday that the long-delayed public interest immunity (PII) hearing in the case would begin next Wednesday. Members of the Brown family, including his widow Bridie, were in court. Barrister for the Brown family, Des Fahy KC, drew attention to widespread redactions in the security documents which will be considered by coroner Mr Justice Kinney. He told the court: “The PII process for the next of kin is something akin to looking for the light switch in a dark room. “The extent of the redactions that we have seen in the papers provided already make it very difficult for us to ascertain the import and the significance of those documents. “It is self-evident that we are not privy to the rationale for the extensive redactions that have been made and that we rely on the assessment and the judgment of the coroner and his legal team in determining which, if any, of those redactions are to be rolled back. “In bald terms, our over-arching submission is that they should be rolled back given the detrimental impact these redactions are having on our capacity to prepare for the resumption of the inquest.” The barrister addressed particular references within the evidence files. He said: “The first is in relation to a person who is designated as Suspect 15 and who is described in an unredacted section as believed to be a serving member of the Royal Irish Regiment. “This is wholly new information to the next of kin and the potential impact of such information is obvious to everyone involved in this inquest. “The vast majority of the rest of that document is redacted. “The second is in relation to a person who has been designated as Suspect 2 and, again, in an unredacted section it has been described that he or she held a personal protection weapon and was visited regularly at home by a policeman. “There are clear inferences from the next of kin’s point of view as to the circumstances in which a person, never mind a suspect, would legally hold a personal protection weapon. “This again is new information but there is no other detail attendant to it.”

Mr Fahy then addressed security services documentation within the evidence files to be considered. He said: “It indicates that two named suspects were stopped by the RUC in Randalstown a day or two days before the murder of Mr Brown and their details were taken. “The car which they were driving is also a car which is considered to be relevant in the investigation in relation to the murder. “We are bewildered that the security services document and statement we have seen is redacted to the extent that it is; but even the portions that aren’t redacted, a security services operative says he does not know who the officers were to whom he spoke, he does not know if the information was disseminated upwards in the RUC and does not concede to having any notes in relation to these interactions. “We find that incredible. “The significance of an interaction with two suspects in the Randalstown area a number of days before the murder is of huge potential significance to the Brown family. “If the security services documentation is to be considered in the PII process next week we would ask that particular attention be given to the purported redactions within the statement that we have seen from the security services officer and as much attention and as much effort is given to the roll back of redactions because otherwise the significance of that document is not going to play out in full when the inquest resumes.” The barrister concluded: “To a very large extent we have to place our trust and faith in the process to achieve the meaningful inquest the Brown family both desire and deserve.” Mr Justice Kinney said it would be for him to decide which parts of the sensitive documents should be redacted. He said: “The next step is the long overdue commencement of the PII process when I will have an opportunity to consider the redactions, the omissions, the obscuring of information that is in the documents to determine the full extent of what should be redacted and obscured. “We will explore all matters properly and appropriately and I will arrive at a decision as to what should properly be presented as part of the inquest process.”

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