‘We need answers’: Family fears time running out on 10-year campaign for inquest into father’s death

Sean Dalton was among three killed in ‘Good Samaritan’ bombing in Derry 35 years ago. Supreme Court decision delays mean inquest will not happen before May cut-off date and legacy Bill

A woman who has been campaigning for 10 years for a fresh inquest into the death of her father during the Troubles says families are being “retraumatised” by delays which are preventing them from getting answers.

“Time is probably going to run out and, like many other people, we just feel this is so, so unfair,” said Phyllis Kealey.

Ms Kealey’s father, Sean Dalton, was one of three people killed in the “Good Samaritan” bombing in the Creggan area of Derry 35 years ago.

A 55-year-old widowed father of six, Mr Dalton and two others, Sheila Lewis and Gerard Curran, went to check on a neighbour who was missing from his flat. He had been abducted by the IRA and when they entered, a booby-trap bomb – intended for the British army – exploded.


The North’s Police Ombudsman in 2013 found that the RUC failed in its duties to protect life in several respects because police had information about the bomb but did not warn residents.

The Dalton family believe the police did not act to protect an informant. They have been waiting almost a year for a Supreme Court decision on whether to approve an inquest.

Even if it is approved, it will not take place before the May cut-off date set by the UK government’s legacy Bill, which is expected to become law later this month. Inquests which have been ordered into the deaths of about 80 people are still outstanding.

“In 35 years nothing has really changed. We have been through process after process, delays, denial and death, we’ve been through all of these,” said Ms Kealey. “Two of our siblings have passed away, there’s the denial of factual information and delays around lengthy, lengthy court cases, and that retraumatises us every time.

She added: “We feel there’s been such injustice, and we need answers.”

Under the controversial legislation, all Troubles-related inquests which have not been completed by next May will be transferred to a new information recovery body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), which will also take on responsibility for criminal and civil cases and has the power to offer conditional amnesties for perpetrators.

The Bill is opposed by the North’s five main political parties, victims and human rights groups, the Irish Government, other parties in Ireland and in Britain, and internationally. It is supported by veterans’ groups.

In a statement, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said the UK government’s “primary focus has always been to establish one effective legacy body focused on providing better outcomes for families”.

A spokeswoman said that because of UK government amendments, inquests now had until May 1st to conclude, “ensuring a smooth transition between the conclusion of the current mechanisms and the full establishment” of the ICRIR.

However, Ms Kealey said she had “no faith” in the new body at all. “I can’t see how after 35 years somebody is going to come forward and speak of their part in making or planting the bomb or whatever. It’s not going to be effective.”

On the 35th anniversary of his death, the family of Mr Dalton on Thursday remembered a beloved father who was devoted to his wife, Polly, his family and to football.

Sara Duddy, from the Pat Finucane Centre, which represents the Dalton family, said that after 10 years the “inquest could have been heard and the family could have moved on and the family could have been having an anniversary event to remember their father, having had their questions answered”.

“Instead, they’re stuck, again, pushing uphill, and now at the eleventh hour, even if they’re successful and a new inquest was granted, the legacy Bill’s just going to stop that.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times