Police have agreed to hand over nearly 40 folders of documents for a legal action over the SAS killings of eight IRA men, the High Court heard today (Tuesday, March 7).
But a further five sensitive dossiers on the Loughgall ambush are to be examined by the Chief Constable amid steps to secure Public Interest Immunity over some contents.
The developments came in a lawsuit brought by the father of one of those shot dead in the Co Armagh village in May 1987.
Undercover soldiers targeted members of the Provisionals’ East Tyrone unit as they approached an RUC station with a bomb in a hijacked digger.
The IRA men killed were: Jim Lynagh, Padraig McKearney, Gerard O’Callaghan, Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, Patrick Kelly, Seamus Donnelly and Declan Arthurs.
An innocent civilian, Anthony Hughes, was also shot dead and his brother badly wounded when they were caught up in the gunfire.
The military operation inflicted the IRA’s largest loss of life during the conflict.
Relatives of those killed claim soldiers operated a deliberate shoot-to-kill policy rather than attempt to make arrests.
Declan Arthurs’ father, Patrick, initially sued just the Ministry of Defence over the ambush.
But with the RUC’s Mobile Support Unit also believed to have played a role in the operation, the PSNI was joined to the action in 2014 as the force’s successor.
Last year a judge declined an attempt to have the police defence to Mr Arthur’s action dismissed for failing to hand over the requested documents.
At that stage an Assistant Chief Constable stated that the discovery process would involve searches of electronic, microfiche and hard copy material in stores holding more than 9.5 million intelligence records.
Mr Arthurs’ legal team were set to mount an appeal against the decision not to make a strike out order.
However, the Crown Solicitor’s Office has now confirmed that 39 folders of non-sensitive documents have been assembled.
The court was told that all of these dossiers will be made available to Mr Arthurs’ lawyers at the end of this month.
Tony McGleenan QC, for the Chief Constable, said: “That will provide the plaintiff with a very sizeable volume of material to examine.”
He also revealed that another five folders containing sensitive information is expected to be subject to a PII claim.
The extensive process of editing and redacting would involve a certificate being issued by the Secretary of State or another Northern Ireland Office minister by the end of July, Mr Justice Deeny was told.
In a reference to the current political uncertainty at Stormont, the judge commented: “By that point they may be relaxed and have nothing to worry about, or they may be running Northern Ireland.”
He directed that all sensitive files are to be forwarded to the Secretary of State, if the Chief Constable seeks PII, as soon as possible.
Outside court Mr Arthurs’ solicitor lamented the delay in securing the material.
Claire McKeegan of KRW Law said: “Whilst we are encouraged that there is now a timetable in place for the disclosure of the documents relevant to this case it is hugely frustrating for our clients that they have been forced to seek continued recourse to the courts.
“It is unacceptable that it has taken some two years for the PSNI to comply with the original order of the court compelling disclosure.”