Derry families mount legal action against DPP

The families of nine Derry people killed in disputed circumstances by the security forces have announced that legal action against the Director of Public Prosecutions is to go ahead following what they have described as “an insulting and inadequate response from the office of the DPP”. In a letter to the families, the DPP has again refused to give reasons for his failure to prosecute, despite the landmark ruling of the European Court last year requiring him to do so.

The move follows a press conference last month with the families of Desmond Beattie, Kathleen Thompson, Colm Keenan, Manus Deery, Daniel Hegarty, Thomas Friel, Denis Heaney, Stephen McConomy and Paul Whitters. The families were accompanied by solicitors from the firms of McDermott & McGurk and Madden & Finucane and representatives of the Pat Finucane Centre. The Pat Finucane Centre announced on Wednesday, 20 February, that solicitors are now to seek leave to judicially review the DPP in two test cases on behalf of the families of Manus Deery and Kathleen Thompson.

Paul O’Connor, PFC spokesperson said, “these test cases should be seen in the context of a series of ongoing legal challenges to the culture of impunity which has surrounded state killings over the past 30 years. As a result of the European judgement, legal challenges are presently going ahead regarding the inquest system and the failure to mount independent investigations. The test cases in respect of Manus Deery and Kathleen Thompson are groundbreaking in the sense that the office of the DPP will find itself in the dock, a unique reversal of roles.” McDermott & McGurk have instructed senior counsel on behalf of the family of Manus Deery. Madden & Finucane have instructed senior counsel on behalf of the family of Kathleen Thompson.

The relatives have also expressed their total outrage at the nature of the recent correspondence from the office of the DPP. The letter makes no reference to those who died by name. Instead each of the deceased has been given a reference number. Raymond Beattie, whose brother Dessie was shot dead by British soldiers in July 1971, commented: “To give someone a number, not a name, is going down the path of the Nazis, who treated Jews as numbers.” Maria McConomy, whose young son Stephen was killed by a British soldier in 1982 was equally scathing. “It’s a disgrace and shows their mentality. To us he was a flesh and blood human being, an 11-year-old child playing on the street, a son and a brother, not a number on a file to be ignored.”

The Pat Finucane Centre has asked that other families who lost loved ones in controversial killings study the eight major criticisms that emerged from the European judgement and ask themselves whether these might apply in their own cases. “We would encourage families to contact their solicitor first and foremost or the PFC if in doubt,” said O’Connor.

Eight major criticisms emerge from the four judgements. These are:

Lack of independence of the police investigation, which applies to police killings (Jordan, McKerr), army killings (Kelly), and cases of alleged collusion (Shanaghan).
The refusal of the DPP to give reasons for failing to prosecute.
Lack of compellability of witnesses suspected of causing death.
Lack of verdicts at the inquest.
Absence of legal aid and non-disclosure of witness statements at the inquest.
Lack of promptness in the inquest proceedings.
The limited scope of the inquest
Lack of prompt or effective investigation of the allegations of collusion.