Northern Ireland

Release of Troubles' killings documents sparks legal row

Carál Ní Chuilín
Image caption The culture minister handed over the documents to members from Relatives for Justice

A decision by Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín to release documents related to three historic Troubles killings has sparked a high level legal dispute.

The secretary of state and the chief constable went to court over the weekend in order to stop the papers being circulated.

They want sensitive details which could identify security force members removed before the documents are released.

Relatives for Justice have said police officers' names have been removed.

The documents concern three Troubles' deaths - IRA man Paddy McAdorey who was killed by the Army in 1971, social work student Michael Donnelly killed by a plastic bullet in 1980, and Sadie Larmour, a west Belfast woman who was murdered by loyalists in 1979.

Mrs Larmour's daughter, Josephine, said she was angered by the intervention of the secretary of state and chief constable.

"Everything in these papers is within the public domain. Everyone has access to them, yet still, they refuse families, they don't allow families to have access to what happened to their loved ones," she said.


The case came before Belfast High Court again on Monday, but after a brief court session, a full hearing of the issues involved was postponed until Thursday.

The campaign group Relatives for Justice and lawyers, KRW Law, wanted access to inquest and trial papers held in the Public Records Office.

On Friday, Ms Ní Chuilín, whose department oversees the Public Records Office (PRO), personally handed them over.

Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice said they were not secret documents.

"These are public documents released to the PRO sought under the freedom of information - there's nothing sensitive," he said.

"These documents relate to inquest hearings and court trials concerning people that stood trial for murders and we're bewildered at the actions of the chief constable and the secretary of state in this instant.

'Sensitive information'

"We can't understand it and the families are seeing it as a direct attack on them to seek basic information about the killings of their relatives.

"They're upset about it but they also see it as an interference in the wider democratic process," Mr Thompson added.

But Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and Chief Constable Matt Baggott believe the papers should not have been released without the removal of the sensitive information.

In a statement on Monday, a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said: "The secretary of state has a responsibility to ensure that risks relating to the release into the public domain of information originating from government are properly considered.

'Significant risk'

"As with any public authority, this includes an obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to protect the right to life of those who might be affected by such a release."

"In this case the secretary of state is of the view that the release of this information was in breach of her Article 2 obligations. This is due to the assessment by PSNI that individuals named would be at significant risk if the information was placed unaltered into the public domain."

"It is disappointing that the information was released without proper engagement about these concerns," the NIO spokesperson added.

Stormont's Justice Minister, David Ford, said it was unclear what, if any, sensitive information had been removed.

Late-night hearing

"Last Friday I wrote to the culture minister pointing out the urgent necessity of having discussions about the issue and ensuring that there were full redactions to protect ongoing police investigations and potential issues under the ECHR," he said.

"I'm extremely disappointed that she doesn't seem to have taken any advice from my department, or the police, and has gone ahead and issued those documents.

"At this stage it is unclear exactly what redaction she applied."

At the late-night hearing over the weekend, a judge granted an order in favour of the police and NIO, preventing the documents being circulated.

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