Inquest into Northern Ireland Catholic murders halted after MI5 blocks intelligence release

Paddy Fox (left), son of Charles and Tess Fox, and Tommy McKearney, speaking outside the court
Paddy Fox (left), son of Charles and Tess Fox, and Tommy McKearney, speaking outside the court - DAVID YOUNG/PA

MI5 has blocked the release of intelligence over the murders of four Catholics in Northern Ireland more than 30 years ago, prompting a coroner to halt an inquest.

Relatives of the victims accused the UK Government of a “disgraceful attempt to stop justice being done”.

Judge Richard Greene KC said the inquest into the deaths of four members of one family in 1992 had been “seriously compromised”, after the security services and the Northern Ireland Office objected to intelligence being made public.

The judge said “rumours and suspicion of state collusion” had been circulating “for some time”, following the fatal shootings in County Tyrone.

The inquest had threatened to expose the alleged involvement of the security services in two separate attacks carried out by loyalist paramilitaries, eight months apart.

Gunned down

Kevin McKearney, 32, was shot dead by a UVF gunman inside his family-run butcher shop in the village of Moy, in January 1992. His uncle, Jack McKearney, 69, was wounded in the same attack and died in hospital three months later.

Later that year, Kevin McKearney’s mother-in-law and father-in-law, Charlie and Tess Fox – who were 63 and 54 respectively – were shot dead by the UVF inside their home in Moy.

But Mr Greene said on Friday he had been “prevented” from delivering a summary of intelligence information around the deaths, after Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris objected to it being stated in open court.

The inquests opened last year, but were paused while a lengthy public interest immunity process took place over the disclosure of sensitive security-forces material.

Mr Greene said: “A significant intervening event has occurred, which prevents me from delivering my ruling this afternoon.

“The proposed gist is not accepted by the security service and the Northern Ireland Office, who object to its release in open [court].”

He said his “provisional view” was that he could not “continue with these inquests” and he suggested only a public inquiry could now “consider the full circumstances of these deaths”.

‘Absolutely disgusting’

Outside Laganside courthouse, Gavin Booth, solicitor for the Fox and McKearney families, said he believed the intelligence material “involves state agents working for, employed by, and assisted by the state in these murders and the murders of many other people in the mid-Ulster area in the 1990s”.

He added: “This is a disgraceful attempt to divert justice for families. It’s absolutely disgusting.”

Kevin McKearney’s brother, Tommy, said: “There’s been multiple incidents of state agents being involved in collusion.

“And I’m at the stage now refusing to even use the word collusion, because I am suggesting very strongly that what we’re looking at here is participation by the British state in this outrageous round of murders.

“I think we’ve got to call for a public inquiry and I endorse the statement by the judge for a public inquiry.”

In a statement, a UK Government spokesman said: “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will give careful consideration to the coroner’s ruling when it is delivered and to related correspondence when it is received.”

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