SECRETARY of State Owen Paterson says sensitive information may be withheld from forthcoming historical inquests into deaths involving state agents during the Troubles – including three that occurred in Londonderry – to protect national security.
Three Londonderry deaths are amongst over 30 scheduled for ‘legacy’ or historical inquests after Europe ordered there has to be an “effective investigation into the circumstances of any death which involves state agents.”
The 1972 killing of 15-year-old Londonderry schoolboy Manus Deery, who was shot by a sniper from an Army observation post on the city walls, is amongst those listed.
A ‘legacy inquest’ is also listed for the deaths of Londonderry IRA men William Fleming (aged 19) and Daniel Doherty (aged 23) who were killed by the SAS in Gransha in 1984.
But Mr Paterson said the proposed inquests may not be entirely transparent for reasons of national security.
He made the claim after Mr Donaldson referred to a briefing from senior retired police officers in which the threat to national security from evidence that is being given in inquests in Northern Ireland was raised.
The officers were worried such inqests could “open up the whole modus operandi of our security forces and security services,” according to Mr Donaldson.
“What do the Government intend to do to protect national security from this threat?” asked Mr Donaldson.
Mr Paterson said it was a serious issue but assured him information could be withheld if necessary.
“A whole number of legacy inquests – up to 32 – are coming down the track. I would like to assure him formally that measures are in place under the existing arrangements that allow an inquest to go ahead fairly, but information that might be dangerous if released to individuals can be held back.
“There are measures that can be worked out, but the final decision rests with the coroner. Until now, these arrangements have worked well, and they will continue in their current guise,” he said.
He asked if Mr Paterson had talked to the Justice Secretary about his “decision not to provide for a closed material procedure in relation to inquests.”
Mr Paterson replied: “I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. I have regular meetings with the Justice Secretary. I talked to him on the telephone this morning. If the right hon. Gentleman would wait, I treat each case individually and remain in close touch with the local Justice Minister on such issues.”