UK authorities urged to resolve cases of deaths involving security forces in North

Council of Europe committee welcomes Haas proposal to create single investigative mechanism

Mourners at the funeral of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in January 1989. Photograph: Pacemaker

Mourners at the funeral of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in January 1989. Photograph: Pacemaker

Sat, Jun 7, 2014, 01:00

The Council of Europe has expressed “serious concerns” that a number of cases surrounding the deaths of people in Northern Ireland which involved the security forces remain unresolved.

In a decision published yesterday, the committee of ministers at the Strasbourg-based body “strongly urged the authorities to ensure their conclusion as soon as possible”.

The cases include McKerr v the United Kingdom and seven similar cases involving deaths in the North during the 1980s and 1990s, either during security forces operations or “in circumstances giving rise to suspicions of collusion with those forces”.

Among the cases being monitored by the council are investigations into the death of John Hemsworth, who died some months after a collision with riot police in west Belfast in 1997; the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane; and the 1982 killing of Gervaise McKerr by RUC officers.

All necessary measures

In its decision yesterday, the committee, which oversees the implementation of European Court of Human Rights judgments, reiterated its call for the UK to conclude the investigations.

It noted that the court had “repeatedly urged the UK authorities to take all necessary measures with a view to bringing to an end, without further delay, the investigations in the cases” and “strongly urged the authorities to ensure their conclusion as soon as possible”.

The latest action plan was submitted by the UK authorities in February to the Council of Europe and was under examination, the body said.

The committee said it “noted with interest” the Haass process – the stalled cross-party talks chaired by Dr Richard Haass late last year which proposed taking over responsibility for legacy cases from the Police Ombudsman and the Historical Enquiries Team.

It welcomed in particular the proposal to create a single investigative mechanism, which could bring “meaningful and positive change to the investigation of legacy cases”.

The committee encouraged the authorities “to use all necessary means to pursue” this proposal.

It noted Britain’s assertion that legacy cases were particularly challenging. However, it found that further measures might be needed to address the cause of the excessive delay in inquest proceedings.

The committee also noted that inquest proceedings in the Hemsworth case had concluded and the case had been referred to the DPP.