March 23 2012

The family of a man shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland while eight undercover soldiers were nearby has hit out at a decision not to hold an inquest into the murder.

Coroner John Leckey said the 1990 shooting of former republican prisoner Sam Marshall, which was recently reviewed by a special police unit, should be the subject of a further probe by the Police Ombudsman’s office before any decision on an inquest.

Sam Marshall

Legal representatives for the Marshall family and two other republicans targeted in the shooting in Lurgan, Co Armagh, said they feared the decision would cause further delays in the case, which hit the headlines earlier this month when the scale of the security-force presence at the murder scene emerged.

But Mr Leckey said that since a trial linked to the killing had already been held, he should delay a decision on any inquest until a complaint lodged with the Police Ombudsman’s office is dealt with in case it unearths new information.

The coroner said: “At the present time I cannot say an inquest is necessary and I am delaying that decision until after the Police Ombudsman’s report.”

The family said they had expected the preliminary hearing in Belfast to agree arrangements for an inquest and added: “We are very angry and upset that after having to wait for years we are now going to have to wait for up to a further six years. We are also considering legal action over the period ahead.”

Six months ago the ombudsman’s office, which probes complaints against police, was hit by a damning report on its handling of historic cases and agreed to a freeze on investigating murders from the Troubles until reforms are implemented. It is also currently recruiting a new Police Ombudsman to lead the organisation.

A legal representative for the ombudsman’s office told the hearing that it faced financial barriers to investigating historic cases, but hoped that would be resolved soon and a plan to review all such cases within six years could be implemented. “I can’t say for sure where Mr Marshall’s case will fall in that,” said the ombudsman’s lawyer.

Sam Marshall, 31, was killed in a hail of automatic gunfire by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force minutes after he and two other republicans left a police station where the trio had signed bail forms on charges of possession of ammunition. The presence nearby of a red Maestro car, later found to be a military intelligence vehicle, sparked claims of a security-force role in the killing at the time.

But a recent review by the police Historical Enquiries Team revived the controversy when it revealed the car was one of six vehicles in a major surveillance operation involving eight armed undercover soldiers plus their commanding officer. Though the loyalist killers launched the attack within yards of troops and escaped, investigators said there was no evidence of state collusion with the gunmen.