By Rebecca Black and David Young, PA
Northern Ireland’s police service has been found to be in breach of its duty to ensure an effective investigation into a 1992 loyalist gun attack in Co Down.
The finding came at the High Court in Belfast following a challenge to the chief constable by John McEvoy, a barman who narrowly escaped being hit in the attack on the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo, Co Down.
Families are now calling for an investigation into a series of loyalist attacks in the South Down area.
These include the killing of comedian Patrick Kielty’s father Jack in Dundrum in 1988, the attempted murder of John O’Rourke in 1986 and the shooting deaths of six Catholic men at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland in 1994.
One man, Peter McCormack, was murdered and several others hurt when a UVF gang burst into the Thierafurth Inn and opened fire.
Mr McEvoy claimed a failure to establish an independent effective probe into the shooting on November 19th, 1992 breached his human rights.
Some of the material cited by Mr McEvoy’s lawyers included the 2016 Police Ombudsman report into the Loughinisland attack, which found there had been collusion between police officers and the gunmen, and the documentary film No Stone Unturned, which named suspects.
Mr Justice Humphreys said the new material represents plausible evidence of significant state collusion at the Thierafurth Inn shootings.
He found that the state “has failed to carry out” an effective investigation compliant with Article Two or Three of the European Convention on Human Rights “within a reasonable time”.
However, he said he was not satisfied that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)’s Legacy Investigation Branch is incapable of carrying out an effective investigation.
Concluding his judgment, Mr Justice Humphreys said he was minded to make a declaration rather than an order in light of the indication that a review of the case is being carried out.
“I’m conscious that any mandatory order may result in other deserving investigations being denied or delayed,” he said.
He said: “Declaratory relief ought to be an effective remedy for the breach which I have found.”
A further hearing is set to take place around the wording of a declaration and costs.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland acknowledge the comments of Mr Justice Humphreys today,” a force spokesman said.
“We will now take time to fully consider the written judgment and it would, therefore, be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
Mr McEvoy was accompanied by several survivors of other loyalist gun attacks in the Co Down area as he attended the High Court on Friday.
Outside court, he welcomed the judgment.
“That’s what we’ve been looking for since 1982 and we got what we wanted,” he said.
“We want a review into what happened all over south Down.”
He added: “It’s been prolonged, for 30 years, coming 31 years. It’s affected everybody, not just me. It has affected all the people.
“I’m glad that the ruling went with us today and I hope that the police force now come meet with our legal team.”
Mr McEvoy’s solicitor Gavin Booth, from Phoenix Law, said the onus now lay with the PSNI to instigate a “proper investigation” into the series of loyalist attacks in South Down.
“It’s on the PSNI now to take action to remedy that breach [of European Convention rights],” he said.
“We’re open to meet with the PSNI to talk about a proper thematic investigation into South Down, into all the events of collusion.
“So, while no exact order has been made today, the PSNI should know that it’s on them now to carry out a proper investigation into South Down.”
Mr Booth said the opportunity to secure justice has not been scuppered by the passage of time.
“The suspects still remain living in South Down,” he said.
“We know who they are, we know where they’re living, the PSNI know who they are.”
Sinn Féin MP for South Down, Chris Hazzard, also joined the survivors at Friday’s hearing.
“This is a watershed decision for families in South Down and further exposes damning levels of collusion between the state and loyalist paramilitaries,” he said.
“All of these murders and attacks must now be properly investigated and those responsible brought before the courts.
“I want to commend all the families impacted by this case and their steadfast campaign to access truth and justice.
“They are entitled to justice and proper investigation. This must now proceed without any delay.”