Northern Ireland

NI Secretary Theresa Villiers withdraws Troubles documents case

High Court, Belfast

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has withdrawn legal action over the release of documents about three murders more than 40 years ago.

The case was taken after Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín gave inquest files to a victims' group and law firm.

It had been argued that circulation should be blocked until any potential security risks were assessed.

The High Court heard on Friday, that after an examination of the papers, the injunction was no longer necessary.

The papers at the centre of the court battle related to three Troubles-related deaths: IRA man Paddy McAdorey killed by the Army in 1971, social work student Michael Donnelly killed by a plastic bullet in 1980, and Sadie Larmour murdered by loyalists in 1979.

The families had been asked to hand back the documents that had been released by Ms Ní Chuilín.

Her department has responsibility for the Public Records Office where the papers are held.

The court case was taken by both the secretary of state and Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

Image caption Theresa Villiers has withdrawn the case in the High Court

Their concerns centred on the possible disclosure of any sensitive information on members of the security forces.

A temporary injunction was secured during an emergency hearing in August - hours after the minister made the handover.

Solicitors KRW Law and the campaign group, Relatives for Justice (RFJ) then gave undertakings to take all immediate steps to request retrieval of the papers from victims' families.

As the case returned to court on Friday for an update, Attorney General John Larkin QC appeared on behalf of the minister.

Tony McGleenan QC, for the secretary of state and chief constable, asked for the case to be dismissed.

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Media captionMark Thompson, of Relatives for Justice, said: "We believe this injunction was illegal from the outset.

He told Mr Justice Stephens his clients have now had time to look at the documents and no longer regarded the injunction as necessary.

Judgment was then entered for the defendants along with costs for all of them except the minister, who made no application.

Afterwards, the campaign group at the centre of the legal action criticised the attempt to block the release of the documents.

Mark Thompson, of Relatives for Justice, said: "We believe this injunction was illegal from the outset.

"It was morally wrong, it was politically driven and we would call on the chief constable and the secretary of state to both apologise publicly to the families."

Sadie Larmour's daughter, Josephine, said: "I'm very relieved and I also hope that the rest of the families, who are seeking access to their papers in relation to the death of their loved ones, get access the same as us."

KRW Law said the "climb-down that this represents illustrates the vexatious nature of the original injunction sought."

They added: "The application was a disgraceful abuse of power and authority and was designed to intimidate both KRW Law and RFJ from undertaking the important work that we do for our clients and constituent family members.

"We will not be deflected or intimidated from the work that we do, and will continue to act without fear or favour."

An spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office said: "The legal action taken by the secretary of state and chief constable was against the backdrop of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) giving insufficient time to consider the lawfulness of disclosure, and in particular the potential risks under Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

"The secretary of state takes her Article Two responsibilities extremely seriously and in these circumstances it was entirely right to ensure that the potential risks were properly tested and resolved. She is content that this has now happened. "

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