This column was published in the Andersonstown News 28/04/2018


The inquest scandal long precedes the current position of the DUP and any arrangement they have with Tory mis-administration.

There are families who have never had inquests, including those who loved ones were killed by the RUC in circumstances that led to allegations of shoot to kill and the appointment of John Stalker in 1984. They also include the killings of loyalists in what was termed the loyalist feud. These violations all occurred under direct misrule. Those families do not have official death certificates because the inquests have not been heard at all.

There are also inquests that are being re-heard after applications to the Attorney General. Odd as it may seem these are not reopened due to the fact that the state had held non-compliant inquests in the past, i.e. the inquests of everyone affected by state violence or where there was evidence that the state had a role in the killing. (Bear in mind that unless you know there is collusion you do not know there is collusion, so for many families affected by non-state actors they may not even know that there are questions for the state regarding their loved one’s deaths. The horrible and persistent case of the unknown unknown applies and their inquests were possibly non-compliant too.)

Re-opening inquests requires the family to make the case that there is significant and pertinent evidence that was unconsidered at the first inquest. That can involve painstaking research and calls for witnesses to the killings such as those made in this paper on a regular basis.

Very few inquests have been heard but those that have follow a similar pattern, families’ versions of events are vindicated and there is absolutely no accountability following that.
The verdict of the inquest into the killing of Francis Rowntree aged 11 by a rubber bullet: “There was no justification for the use of lethal force at the time that Francis was shot”.

In the inquest into the killing of Barney Watt the coroner concluded: “Based upon the evidence presented at inquest the use of lethal force against Barney Watt by military personnel was not justified.”

The inquest into the killing of his brother-in-law, Joseph Parker similarly concluded “that the soldier that fired the shot had not deliberately targeted Mr Parker but had deliberately fired a shot and acted “recklessly” and that the killing was “unjustified”.

This week a coroner ruled “The force used by that soldier by firing in the direction of Marian Brown was not justified as it was more than was absolutely necessary.”

For the families, decades later, this is necessary vindication and a rewriting of pernicious history. It has absolute value and those involved in supporting the families deserve great credit.

But taken together we see a pattern of the use of unjustified lethal force by the British army. And there is no accountability from the state that allowed and covered up such systemic and devastating violations. Accountability must accompany the truth.

Additionally, far from these inquest findings leading to an environment saying all inquests need to be heard because it is crystal clear that horrific violations of men women and children have been unaccounted for, the ignominy of the failure to resource inquests proper continues. That should shame all of those responsible who proclaim to be interested in law and order.

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