The family of IRA Volunteer Gervaise McKerr, who was killed by the RUC in a shoot to kill operation on 11 November 1982, has welcomed the judgement of the Court of Appeal in Belfast that the British government failed to properly investigate the shootings 20 years ago.

McKerr, together with Volunteers Eugene Toman and Sean Burns, was ambushed by the RUC near Lurgan in 1982. All three were unarmed when they were killed.

In May 2001, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that the British government had breached the Right to Life in the cases of 12 people who were killed by the British Army and RUC. Since then, the British government has consistently refused to provide any effective investigation into the McKerr case and others, arguing that the killings happened before the European Convention on Human Rights was incorporated into British domestic law in October 2000.

The McKerr family tested the new European Court ruling in the High Court in Belfast, however Judge Campbell dismissed the finding of the European Court on the grounds that McKerr was not entitled to a declaration, as the case had been settled when the European Court awarded his family £10,000 compensation. The family appealed this ruling.

McKerr’s lawyer, Angela Ritchie of Madden and Finucane, argued that the killings had breached article two of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to life, and that the trial of three RUC men who were acquitted of murder had not met the aims of reassuring the McKerr family and the public as to the lawfulness of the killings.

In delivering the appeal court’s decision on Friday 10 January, Lord Chief Justice Carswell, sitting with two other judges, declared that the appellant’s claim “is well founded and we propose to make a declaration that the government has failed to carry out an investigation which complies with article two”.

Speaking afterwards, Angela Ritchie said the judgement is not only a vindication for the McKerr family, but for all families who were denied any effective investigation into the killing of a family member by the state.

“The British government has attempted to delay giving effect to the rights of the McKerr family since the landmark judgement of the European Court of Human Rights delivered two years ago, and even now seek to further delay satisfying their obligations under the Right to Life provisions, by seeking to appeal this judgement to the British House of Lords,” she said.

Meanwhile, hopes are high that there will finally be a full investigation into the killing by the RUC of 23-year-old Pearse Jordan after Friday’s landmark judgement. The unarmed IRA Volunteer from New Barnsley was shot dead after the RUC rammed his car on the Falls Road in November 1992.

Pearse Jordan’s father Hugh said the judgement had given the family fresh hope in their ten-year fight for a proper investigation into the killing.