Up to 25 people linked to murder of Derry GAA official Seán Brown, inquest told

Family never waivered in belief of state collusion in murder, but suspicions now confirmed for the first time officially

Up to 25 people, some of whom were state agents, have been linked through intelligence to the murder of Co Derry GAA official Seán Brown, an inquest hearing has been told.

Mr Brown’s family has always believed there was state collusion in his murder, but this is the first time their suspicions have been confirmed officially.

Counsel for the family, Des Fahy KC, said the admission had been “shocking and distressing” for them to hear and the case for a full public inquiry into Mr Brown’s murder was “now overwhelming.”

Mr Brown, who was 61, was locking the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tone’s GAA club in May 1997 when he was abducted and murdered by loyalists.


No one has ever been convicted of his murder.

An inquest into his death began last year, and in recent weeks a public interest immunity (PII) process — which deals with sensitive material related to Mr Brown’s murder — has been taking place in closed hearings.

The coroner, Mr Justice McKinney, is due to deliver his ruling on Monday on what material can be considered by the inquest in open court.

At a hearing on Tuesday, counsel for the coroner, Joseph Aiken KC, updated the Brown family on proceedings and delivered the “global gist” of what had happened during the closed PII hearings.

He said the documentation produced to the coroner by various state agencies “consists of extensive relevant non-sensitive and sensitive material” and this has been reviewed by the coroner in “unredacted” form.

“The material indicates that in excess of 25 individuals were linked, through intelligence, to the murder of Seán Brown.

“The intelligence material indicates that those individuals are said to have been involved, at the material time, with loyalist paramilitaries.

“Those individuals or potential suspects come from different geographical areas of Northern Ireland.

“Those individuals are not necessarily linked to one another,” he said.

“The intelligence material indicates that, at the time of the death of Seán Brown, a number of the individuals linked through intelligence to the murder were agents of the state.

“Intelligence is not evidence, but issues relating to the agents of the state, and their handling, would inevitably fall to be investigated in the inquest if it were possible for the coroner to do so.

“Agencies of the state, for long-standing reasons of national security in relation to source protection, have asserted public interest immunity in respect of material that substantially bears on the issues that would otherwise be investigated by the coroner,” he concluded.

Mr Fahy said the Brown family had been audibly and visibly upset by the revelation and were relieved Mr Brown’s widow, Bridie, had not been in court to hear it.

“Material indicates in excess of 25 individuals were linked through intelligence to the murder of Seán Brown — the family note that not a single one of those individuals was charged with any offence in relation to the murder of Seán Brown, never mind brought to court,” said Mr Fahy.

He said there was an “inevitability” that the inquest would not be able to consider issues relating to state agents on national security grounds and emphasised the need for a full public inquiry.

“I ask the question on behalf of the next of kin. What is the attitude of the Secretary of State [Chris Heaton-Harris] to the holding of a public inquiry?”

Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre, which supports the Brown family, said confirmation of the involvement of state agents “raises disturbing questions” about the withholding of information from previous investigations, including a Police Ombudsman’s investigation and a Police Service of Northern Ireland reinvestigation in 2014.

“Which agency or body decided to withhold this key piece of evidence and mislead the Police Ombudsman, the Irish government, the family and their legal team and ourselves?” said Mr O’Connor.

Additional reporting — PA.

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times