New inquests ordered into loyalist paramilitary murders of five Catholic men more than 30 years ago

North’s attorney general orders fresh inquests due to ‘deficiencies’ in the original hearings and investigation

Michael Armstrong holding an image of his brother Thomas Armstrong, Pauline McNally holding an image of her husband Phelim McNally, Conor Casey holding an image of his parents Kathleen and Tommy Casey, Briege O'Donnell holding an image of her son Dwayne O'Donnell, and Peter Anderson holding an image of his brother Sean Anderson, outside Belfast high court. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Northern Ireland’s attorney general has ordered fresh inquests into the murders of five Catholic men by loyalist paramilitaries in Co Tyrone more than 30 years ago due to “deficiencies” in the original hearings and investigation.

Brenda King has directed that inquests take place into the deaths of Phelim McNally (28) in Coagh in 1988, Thomas Casey (57) in Cookstown in 1990, Seán Anderson (32) in Pomeroy in 1991 and Dwayne O’Donnell (17) and Thomas Armstrong (52) in Cappagh in 1991.

The five killings were carried by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and are linked through suspects, geography and ballistics, according to solicitor Gavin Booth, who is representing families of the victims.

Families also suspect that the cases involve collusion with British state forces and are linked to Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers.


In a letter to Mr Booth, Ms King states the emergence of “new information and evidence” which was not before the original inquest are factors in her decision.

This includes “intelligence as to whether state agents/bodies played a role in the deaths, wider evidence suggestive of collusion and ballistic evidence linking the deaths to other similar mid-Ulster cases”.

“Deficiencies in the original investigation and inquest” also point to “the advisability of a new inquest”, Ms King wrote.

Families welcomed the move, which comes as the controversial UK government legacy Bill goes through its final stages in parliament. Once the Bill becomes law, the ordering of all future Troubles-related inquests will end.

Inquests currently under way must be concluded by May of next year. Those not resolved will be passed to the newly established Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), a body set up to deal with conflict-related crimes that will effectively provide a conditional amnesty for perpetrators.

Mr Booth of Phoenix Law said his clients remained “steadfast in their commitment to see these inquests completed”.

“For too long these families have sought answers as to what happened to their loved ones,” he said.

“To be clear, this inquest and all those that are before the courts should continue. These families deserve that right and their inquests should be properly resourced and heard within a timely fashion.

“Our next step is to ask for this case to be urgently listed before the coroner’s court and for immediate steps to be taken to make sure this case goes ahead without delay.”

Seana Quinn, sister of Mr O’Donnell, said her family had been fighting for decades for answers.

“Our families are fighting for truth and justice, it’s not up for debate,” she said.

“We deserve this inquest.”

Davina Bolton, daughter of Phelim McNally, said her father was an innocent man.

“He was out doing his daily things and he was robbed of his life,” she said.

“This is an important day for us because we’re finally moving forward and getting closer to the truth. We’ve been waiting for a long time for this, 35 years, we just need truth and justice.”

In June, the attorney general granted a fresh inquest into the sectarian murder of Co Tyrone nationalist councillor Patsy Kelly almost 50 years ago.

She also ordered a separate inquest into the deaths of three Catholic men who were shot in an incident involving British soldiers 52 years ago in Newry, Co Down.

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times