Government turns to Supreme Court in bid to withhold Troubles inquest material

The Government is to apply to the Supreme Court in a bid to prevent a coroner disclosing certain sensitive material at a Troubles inquest.

The move comes after Appeal Court judges in Belfast dismissed Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris’s attempt to stop the information being released into the public domain.

A High Court judge had already upheld a decision by coroner Louisa Fee to disclose a summary, or gist, of the evidence in a sensitive security force file related to the murder of a man in west Belfast 30 years ago.

Liam Paul Thompson, 25, died on April 27, 1994 after being shot by loyalists in the area of Springfield Park.

Liam Paul Thompson
Liam Paul Thompson was shot in the area of Springfield Park in west Belfast (Family Handout/PA)

The legal challenges were heard before the implementation of new legacy laws on May 1 that halt coroners’ inquests into Troubles killings.

On Tuesday, Lady Chief Justice Siobhan Keegan and her fellow appeal court judges granted Government lawyers a stay to prevent the coroner disclosing the gist until the Supreme Court has determined whether it will hear the case.

However, the judges only agreed to make the order on the condition that Mr Heaton-Harris provided a written assurance that the legacy laws would not prevent the gist being disclosed after the May 1 deadline if the Government’s Supreme Court appeal is ultimately unsuccessful.

Stormont AsseNorthern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harrisbly
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (PA)

“Specifically, we have granted this on the basis that section 44.2 (section of the Legacy Act related to the end of inquests on May 1) will not prejudice the family in this case should the majority decision (of the Court of Appeal) be upheld,” said the Lady Chief Justice.

Mr Thompson was shot in a taxi on his way home in an attack that has been attributed to loyalist paramilitaries.

His family believe that police were aware that the taxi firm had been under a credible threat from loyalists.

The State had sought to withhold some sensitive material from the inquest on Public Interest Immunity (PII) grounds.

While the coroner approved the majority of PII applications, she had planned to provide the family of Mr Thompson with the overview gist of material contained in one folder.

That prompted the legal challenge.

The Court of Appeal judgment was reached on a majority basis, with the Lady Chief Justice and Lord Justice Horner dismissing the appeal and Lord Justice McCloskey taking the contrary view in favour of the Government.

The Lady Chief Justice gave the Government until 12pm on Wednesday to provide the written assurance from Mr Heaton-Harris.