Troubles legacy: Derry rally for Sean Brown and Patsy Kelly

Sean Brown
Members of Sean Brown's family at the rally at Free Derry Corner

The family of a murdered GAA official have told hundreds of people at a rally in Londonderry that the police "must release material soon so we can have a proper inquest".

Sean Brown was abducted by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) when he was locking the gates of Bellaghy GAA club in County Londonderry.

He was shot near Randalstown in 1997.

The inquest into the 61-year-old's death opened in March 2023 and was due to resume in January 2024.

It has been delayed over the disclosure of police material.

The rally at Free Derry Corner, organised by members of the GAA community and the Pat Finucane Centre, was aimed at supporting Mr Brown's family as well as the family of Patsy Kelly.

Mr Kelly, who was a nationalist councillor, was shot dead in Trillick, County Tyrone, after being abducted on his way home from work.

No-one has ever been convicted over either killing.

Troubles legacy act deadline

The families of both men have said there are concerns they will be unable to complete inquests before the 1 May deadline set down under the government's Troubles legacy act.

The controversial act, which stops any new Troubles-era court cases or inquests being held, directs that ongoing Troubles-related inquests must be concluded by that date.

The bill, which the government has argued is an attempt to draw a line under the events of the past, also offers a conditional amnesty to those accused of killings during the Troubles.

Mr Kelly's son, also called Patsy, told BBC News NI his family have been told an inquest will not happen before 1 May.

Sean Brown's daughter Siobhan
Sean Brown's daughter, Siobhan, said speaking of her father "never gets any easier"

Both families made speeches and held banners before walking to Celtic Park for a GAA match between Derry and Tyrone.

Sean Brown's daughter, Siobhan, told BBC Radio Foyle's North West Today that "it never gets any easier talking about Daddy".

"It brings it all back. We will never ever forget and it's hard to accept especially as we still have to fight for truth and justice almost 27 years on."

'Deadlines have been missed'

During an inquest hearing in November, the coroner was told the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had encountered issues related to intelligence which, it said, could not be aired at an inquest.

It said that it did not believe an inquest was "the appropriate vehicle" for continuing the investigation into Mr Brown's death but that a public inquiry, which can include closed hearings, would be more appropriate.

However, a lawyer for the family accused the PSNI of a "calculated diversion".

Mr Brown's family received an undisclosed financial settlement and an apology from the PSNI in May 2022 over inadequacies in the original RUC investigation into the death.

Ms Brown said "a lot of deadlines have been missed".

"Time is not our friend here. We are getting close to May when inquests here won't happen anymore. We need the PSNI to get their job done and get that information released so we can have the full and proper inquest we deserve."

Patsy Kelly
Patsy Kelly's son, also called Patsy, said they would continue to fight for his father

Patsy Kelly said his family had "been involved in long-running legal battles and it's been painful".

In 2022, a Police Ombudsman report identified inadequacies in the initial police investigation into Mr Kelly's death and found evidence of "collusive behaviour".

"It makes us feel that we don't matter and we should just move on. That's impossible for us to do as we are tied to the events of 1974," said Mr Kelly.

"We are encouraged that the Irish government is to begin a legal challenge against the UK government over its decision to offer immunity for Troubles-era crimes.

"We will continue to fight for truth and justice for dad and for other families. This legacy act needs to be overturned."

A spokesperson from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said the UK government's primary focus "has always been to establish one effect legacy body focused on providing better outcomes for families".

Previously, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said there was "never going to be a perfect solution to this particular problem because no perfect solution exists".

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it is supporting the coroner's service and it would be "inappropriate" to comment while inquest proceedings are ongoing.