The British government has been urged to create a special unit of the Coroner’s Service to investigate controversial killings. Dungannon coroner Roger McLernon, who is conducting an inquest into 10 people killed in suspicious circumstances, said that the government did not appear willing to grasp the nettle of an independent investigations branch.

He said the present coroners’ system was simply not designed to cope with the killings involving allegations of se-curity force collusion.

“It may well be that these cases will be seen as unusual but I doubt that. There are always situations where a fully independent investigation is the only way forward to satisfy the public disquiet,” he said.

“It is not satisfactory from the families’ point of view and the point of view of the administration of justice, but we have inherited the system that is there.”

The inquests involve the killings of:

n IRA men Peter Ryan, Tony Doris and Lawrence McNally, killed on ‘active service’ by the SAS at Coagh in June 1991

n Jack and Kevin McKearney, shot by a UVF gunman as they worked in the family butcher’s shop in Moy, Co Tyrone in January 1992

n IRA members Kevin Barry O’Donnell, Patrick Vincent, Sean O’Farrell and Peter Clancy, shot in an SAS ambush at Clonoe, Co Tyrone in February 1992

n Roseanne Mallon, a 76-year-old pensioner shot dead by the UVF in May 1994. At the time of her death, the house she was in was under army surveillance

Speaking at the 16th preliminary hearing of the inquests yesterday, Mr McLernon contrasted the slow moving process with the Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly.

“There would have been dedicated staff there to investigate that matter and it must have been very, very helpful to have a relatively limited inquiry.”

He added that the background to the killings were similar to the cases investigated at the behest of the government by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory.

These include the loyalist killings of solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, and the INLA killing of LVF leader Billy Wright inside the Maze prison, where there have been allegations of security force collusion.

“We have these cases which involve security and intelligence issues which are complex and very sensitive. It may well be that these matters could be looked at together,” Mr McLernon said.

“I can’t distinguish between the Cory cases and these cases.”

Solicitor Peter Madden, representing the McKearney family, accused the government of implementing a deliberate strategy to prolong the process.

“It seems to me that the policy at work here seems to be delay, delay, delay,” he said.

Outside the court Martin Mallon, the nephew of murdered pensioner Roseanne Mallon, said it was clear that the system was not in place to deal with these cases.

“He (Mr McLernon) said that if these cases were in England, then like the case of Dr David Kelly, there would have been a public inquiry,” Mr Mallon said.

“We have at all times called for an independent public inquiry. It is unacceptable that the police investigate the police, especially with allegations of collusion.”