Frances Bradley

Francis Bradley (20) was shot dead at a farm on the Hillhead Road near Toome in 1986

The family of a Co Derry man are “extremely concerned” that the PSNI and Ministry of Defence (MoD) are “running down the clock” after a coroner heard his inquest could face the prospect of being ‘derailed’ over delays in producing vital information.

Francis Bradley was killed close to an arms dump during an SAS ambush near Toome in February 1986.

The 20-year-old’s name was later added to the IRA’s roll of honour.

An inquest into his shooting, which opened in Derry in April, heard how Mr Bradley had told of being threatened by police before he was shot dead.

His family believe he was the victim of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy.

The inquest was ordered by former Attorney General John Larkin in 2010 and must be at its findings state by May 1 under the British government’s controversial new Legacy Law.

An earlier inquest, held in 1987, heard how the fatal shots were fired by a former soldier, known as ‘Soldier C’.

It emerged during an inquest review hearing on Monday that a Public Immunity Interest (PII) hearing, which was due to be heard on December 14, will not now proceed due to continuing disclosure delays by the Ministry of Defence and PSNI.

PII certificates are used by state agencies to conceal information they don’t want the public to see.

In response to a question from coroner Peter Irvine, an MoD lawyer said “realistically there is no prospect whatsoever of having a PII certificate by mid-December” having earlier said he was “instructed” there was not “the capacity there” to deal with the matter before January.

In response, counsel to the corner Martin O’Rourke KC, issued a stark warning about the future of the inquest.

“I have to say that the work that has been undertaken in terms of marking this material up is rather vague and uncertain and there is no clear timeline been provided as to when the work will be completed and a certificate will be available,” he said.

“And you really need that type of information otherwise this is going to drift and has a real prospect of derailing the inquest in its entirety and it has been suggested by the next of kin that your honour needs to hear from someone from the MoD in a responsible position to explain this and I would have thought that is a reasonable expectation.”

He also said the Crown Solicitor’s Office had advised that no-one from the MoD was available on Monday to answer questions, but a representative will be “made available” later in the week.

Earlier the court heard that two former British soldiers, known by the ciphers ‘H’ and ‘M’ have applied to the inquest for ‘properly interested person’ (PIP) status rather than be considered witnesses.

Barrister for the Bradley family, Karen Quinlivan KC raised concerns about the “vagueness” of the application around the role of the two soldiers in the ambush.

A lawyer for the MoD said the soldiers held “command and approval” roles.

Ms Quinlivan said that correspondence about the application is “couched in such qualified terms that my concern would be…down the line we will receive a statement, it will be quite clear that the person should never have had PIP status but that that statement will have been substantially delayed as a result of the reliance on PIP status in order to essentially delay the provision of statement”.

Speaking outside the court Fearghál Shiels, of Madden and Finucane Solicitors, said: “The Bradley family are extremely concerned that there is an agenda in play whereby the former military witnesses, and indeed the PSNI and Ministry of Defence, are simply running down the clock to make this inquest unachievable before the cut-off date of May 1.

“This was the first inquest directed by the former Attorney General in 2010 and any further delay is unconscionable and must not be tolerated.”

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: ““This is an ongoing legal proceeding. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”

A spokeswoman for the PSNI said: “We are supporting the Coroner’s Service during this Inquest and we will continue to do so. As this is the subject of ongoing Inquest proceedings, it would be inappropriate for the Police Service to comment further at this time.”

Irish News