UK government mounts legal challenge over inquest into murder of GAA official Seán Brown

Brown family members say the development has retraumatised them and express concerns that it could delay a public inquiry by years

The UK government has mounted a legal challenge over the inquest of murdered GAA official Seán Brown in a move that could effectively delay a public inquiry into his killing.

In a statement, it confirmed on Thursday that an “application for leave for judicial review” had been made relating to the inquest into the death of the 61-year-old.

The Brown family said the development had retraumatised them and they expressed concerns that it could put back an inquiry by “years”. They described the UK government’s legal action as “an attack on the truth”.

Mr Brown was locking the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAA club in Co Derry in May 1997 when he was abducted and murdered by loyalist paramilitaries. No one has been convicted for the murder.


An inquest into his killing began last year, but coroner Mr Justice Patrick Kinney last month said his ability to examine the death had been “compromised” by the extent of confidential state material being withheld on national security grounds.

He wrote to Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris requesting that a public inquiry be held. A decision was expected on Wednesday.

A solicitor for Mr Brown’s family said the UK government’s legal action has had a “retraumatising effect on a family but most specifically an 86-year-old widow”.

“The Brown family are gravely concerned that this is a concerted attempt to tie them up in legal processes that could take years and that they are being used as pawns in a wider attempt by the British government to defend its indefensible approach to legacy,” said Niall Murphy, of KRW Law.

“Far from abiding by the express direction of the high court and convene a public inquiry, they have decided to attack our local judiciary and are ignoring the request.”

The Irish Times understands that the judicial review proceedings are linked to the disclosure of sensitive information about state agents at the inquest.

Before it ended, the inquest revealed that up to 25 people, some of whom were state agents, had been linked through intelligence to the murder of Mr Brown – the first time the family’s suspicions of collusion were officially confirmed. The details were disclosed in public-interest immunity hearings, which were held behind closed doors.

The UK government has a long-standing policy of neither confirm nor deny in relation to the disclosure of agents’ identities.

In a brief statement on its legal action, a UK government spokesman it would be “inappropriate to comment further at this stage given the matter is now the subject of judicial consideration”.

Former taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and GAA president Jarlath Burns are among those to support the Brown family’s campaign for a public inquiry.

Following the revelations that 25 people had been linked to her father’s murder, Siobhán Brown said the family had “waited 27 years to get to this position”.

“My daddy didn’t deserve to lose his life. He treated everyone the same. The reason he lost his life he was a Catholic, he was the chairman of our GAA club,” she told the BBC.

Mr Murphy confirmed on Thursday that he has been instructed by the Brown family to take legal action “given the failure by the Secretary of State to make a decision within the proscribed time, in request of the direction of the high court to convene a public inquiry”.

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times