Northern Ireland

Pearse Jordan inquest findings quashed in IRA death case

Pearse Jordan
Image caption Pearse Jordan, 21, was shot by police officers in west Belfast in November 1992

The findings of an inquest into the police shooting of an IRA man more than 20 years ago are to be quashed, the High Court in Belfast has ruled.

Pearse Jordan was killed in disputed circumstances in west Belfast in 1992.

In a verdict with potentially major implications for other cases, the judge indicated a new inquest examining his death should sit without a jury.

The judge also found the PSNI responsible for a delay of up to 11 years in holding the hearing.

The judge is due to make a future determination on whether the police are liable for any damages over the hold-up.

'Shoot-to-kill'

Witnesses in the case claimed the police shot Mr Jordan in the back on the Falls Road as he tried to flee, after the stolen car he was driving was rammed by officers.

His death was one of several high-profile cases in Northern Ireland involving allegations that the security forces had operated a 'shoot-to-kill' policy.

In October 2012, a long-delayed inquest failed to reach agreement on key aspects of the case.

The jury was split on whether reasonable force was used, the state of belief on the part of the officer who fired the fatal shots, and whether any alternative course of action was open to him.

The dead man's father, Hugh Jordan, then mounted a wide-ranging judicial review challenge to the outcome.

'Bias'

In Friday's 129-page judgment, the judge ruled that the inquest verdict should be quashed on a number of grounds.

These included:

  • The non-disclosure of the Stalker/Sampson reports into other so-called 'shoot-to-kill' cases to the Jordan family
  • A refusal to permit the family's lawyers to deploy these reports in cross-examination of key police witnesses who played key roles in Mr Jordan's shooting and other incidents in the Stalker/Sampson probes
  • The decision to sit with a jury
  • The refusal to discharge a juror who claimed the inquest was unfair
  • The limited form of verdict returned by the inquest jury and the coroner's acceptance of it

Dealing with the failure to deploy parts of the Stalker/Sampson report, the judge said: "I also quash the verdict on this ground given that this evidence might have been admissible and that its potential impact could have been significant.

"It is a matter for the coroner at the inquest which will now have to be held."

Part of the Jordan family's challenge was to a jury sitting in such a controversial case of an alleged IRA man being killed by police.

The High Court judge said: "There cannot be an effective investigation where there is a real risk of a perverse verdict or bias.

"In circumstances where unanimity is required, if there is a real risk of a perverse conclusion or bias on behalf of a single juror then there can be no other outcome... but that the inquest should be conducted without a jury.

"Accordingly, if all legacy inquests fall within the category of cases where there is a real possibility of a perverse jury verdict, then discretion should be exercised in all of them for them to be conducted without a jury."

'Vindication'

Attributing delay to the PSNI, the judge pointed to the process around threat assessments and applications for witness anonymity.

"I consider that this was an obstacle or difficulty created by the PSNI which prevented progress of the inquest," he added.

Outside court, Hugh Jordan expressed delight at the outcome.

He said: "We have waited over 20 years for a proper inquest to be conducted fairly and thoroughly. Hopefully now it will be."

His lawyer, Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane Solicitors, said: "This is an emphatic vindication of the Jordan family in bringing this application and the judgment will provide the framework for how future controversial inquests involving the use of lethal force by the British Army and RUC shall be conducted.

"The Jordan family are looking forward now to a new fair inquest heard solely before a coroner or judge, and free from the real risk of perverse verdicts from jurors who may be unable to set aside political or religious prejudices and to reach a verdict according to all of the evidence."

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