Coroner and barrister in heated exchange at hearing into fatal shooting of teenager

Leo Norney, 17, was shot by soldiers in the Turf Lodge area of west Belfast in September 1975

Report from the Coroner’s Court on Tuesday as final preparations made for the inquest into the death of 17 year old Leo Norney in 1975.

A coroner has criticised an Army veteran for refusing to agree to give evidence at an inquest into a teenager who was shot dead by soldiers in west Belfast.

Leo Norney, 17, was killed in disputed circumstances in the Turf Lodge area in September 1975.

Soldiers from the Black Watch regiment said the teenager was a gunman who had opened fire on them.

This account was rejected by people in the area who said the youth was an innocent victim of an unprovoked attack.

The original inquest in 1976 returned an open verdict.

A new inquest opened in November only for proceedings to be adjourned following issues raised by a late statement received by the Coroners Service. It is due to resume at the end of April.

A preliminary hearing on Tuesday was told that coroner Patrick McGurgan is to apply to a court for subpoenas to compel two soldiers involved in the incident – M1 and M3 – to attend the hearing.

Mr McGurgan was then involved in sharp exchanges with a barrister representing M3 over the veteran’s failure to confirm his intention to attend.

Alva Brangam QC urged the coroner to allow him to make representations to the court as part of any application to subpoena the veteran.

He also raised the possibility of the former soldier contributing to the inquest by answering written questions from the coroner.

“We’ve danced on the head of this pin for long enough,” replied Mr McGurgan.

“I am subpoenaing him to attend, Mr Brangam, and you can advise him accordingly.”

When Mr Brangam outlined his alternative proposal, the coroner replied: “Why doesn’t he just come, what about that for a proposal?”

The barrister said a letter sent to the Coroners Service outlining M3’s position had not been replied to.

Mr McGurgan responded: “Let me ask this and you give me a response – is M3 coming or not?”

Mr Brangan replied: “We do not know the answer to that.”

The coroner responded: “Why not? Just simply ask him is he coming or not?”

The barrister said “at the moment he says he’s unable to attend” but he added it was “constantly under consideration”.

Mr Brangam suggested it would save time and costs to allow him to make representations ahead of the subpoena being issued rather than having to challenge the move later.

In response, Mr McGurgan said: “What would save time is if M3 just told you that he was coming to my inquest, Mr Brangam, instead of all this dancing about.

“He’s unable to attend at present but he’s keeping it under review – what does that mean?

“He either knows today that he’s able to come or he knows he’s not able to come. What between now and the 25th of April is going to change?”

The barrister said M3 was unable to attend because his health was “compromised”.

“We have provided medical reports in relation to that,” he added.

Mr McGurgan said: “Why are people not straight with me? He’s not coming, unless he’s going to have some Lazarus change between now and the 25th of April.”

Mr Brangam claimed the coroner was “imputing” a motive to his client “which you are not entitled to do”.

He added: “You’re dissatisfied and you’re right to be dissatisfied. You’re entitled to be dissatisfied. But it would be appropriate to reply to our correspondence which sets out the reasons why he finds himself unable (to attend).”

The coroner replied: “I’m asking the court to issue a subpoena, there is your response.”

Mr McGurgan said he would review the lawyer’s requests and come back to him.

He added: “It’s not me that needs to be apologised to, the next of kin are frustrated as much as I am that he’s not coming or adopting the position he’s adopting.”

Fiona Doherty QC, representing the Norney family, said there was “no basis” for M3 to be excused from the inquest on medical grounds.

“M3 is an important witness, obviously, and he’s a witness that clearly you want to hear from, quite rightly,” she told the coroner.

Ms Doherty said a “half-way house” of M3 responding to written questions was not an appropriate way to proceed.

Some soldiers involved in the shooting of Leo were later convicted in relation to separate incidents in west Belfast, related to the fabrication of evidence involving planting of ammunition.

The inquest is set to resume in Banbridge on April 25.

Belfast Telegraph