Families get compensation over delayed NI inquests

Tuesday 20 May 2014 17.11
A High Court judge awarded £7,500 to a member of each bereaved family
A High Court judge awarded £7,500 to a member of each bereaved family

Relatives of six men killed by the security forces or loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland have been awarded compensation over delays in holding inquests into the deaths.

A High Court judge awarded £7,500 to a member of each bereaved family.

The award was made after the police, Coroners Service and a number of other state bodies conceded that delays amounted to a breach of human rights.

The six relatives argued that the failure to hold timely inquests breached both the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK's Human Rights Act.

The applicants involved were:

- Hugh Jordan, the father of IRA man Patrick Pearse Jordan, who was shot and killed by an RUC officer in Belfast on 25 November 1992.

- Kathleen Ryan, the mother of IRA man Michael Ryan, who was shot and killed by members of the SAS in Coagh on 3 June 1991.

- Christina McCusker, the mother of Fergal McCusker who was shot and killed by loyalist paramilitaries in Maghera on 18 January 1998. The McCusker family have concerns about collusion between paramilitaries and the state in his death.

-  Colette McConville, the mother of Neil McConville, who was shot and killed by a PSNI officer near Ballinderry on 29 April 2003 after a car chase.

- Anne McMenamin, the mother of James Daniel McMenamin, who died after being knocked down by a PSNI Land Rover in Belfast on 4 June 2005.

- Jordan Brown, the son of Stephen Craig Colwell, who was shot and killed by a PSNI officer on 16 April 2006 after failing to stop at a police checkpoint.

On the day the judicial review applications were due to be heard, the PSNI, the Coroners Service, the Office of the Police Ombudsman and the Department of Justice, which is responsible for funding the Police Ombudsman and the Coroners Service, and for partly funding the PSNI, conceded that there had been a delay in commencing the inquests which breached the applicants' human rights.

The court made a declaration to this effect.

Mr Justice Stephens then made the damages awards on the grounds that the applicants had suffered feelings of "frustration, distress and anxiety".

Mr Jordan was awarded damages for delay in 2001 by the European Court of Human Rights.

Justice Stephens said as it took in excess of a further ten years for the inquest to commence he was entitled to further compensation of £7,500.

In the Jordan case, the judge ordered that the PSNI pay the bill. In the other cases the Department of Justice was ordered to pay.

"The investigation into the death of a close relative impacts on the next of kin at a fundamental level of human dignity," said the judge.

"It is obvious that if unlawful delays occur in an investigation into the death of a close relative that this will cause feelings of frustration, distress and anxiety to the next of kin."