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Coroner John Leckey suspends inquests into controversial killings 
15th-Nov-2012 09:55 am
15 Nov 2012

NI's senior coroner John Leckey (l) said Mr Larkin (r) may have exceeded his powers

Inquests ordered by NI Attorney General John Larkin into 14 controversial killings have been suspended.

Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey said Mr Larkin may have exceeded his powers by ordering the hearings.

They include the death of Francis Rowntree, 11, who was hit by a rubber bullet fired by a soldier in 1972.

A preliminary hearing into the circumstances of his death was due to begin in Belfast on Thursday.

Mr Leckey, however, announced that the hearing and a number of other inquests were being adjourned because of potential national security concerns.

He told the court the attorney general may have overstretched his powers and may not have had the legal authority to order the new inquests.

The coroner has referred the matter to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Teresa Villiers as national security issues were not devolved to the assembly and remain a matter for the Northern Ireland Office.

'Very upset'

The family of Francis Rowntree said they were considering seeking a judicial review of Mr Leckey's decision to suspend the inquest.

The Rowntree's family solicitor, Padraig O Muirigh, said: "The decision by the attorney general in June 2012 to direct a fresh inquest was a significant step forward for the Rowntree families' quest for truth.

"The family are very upset by the decision of the coroner to suspend the inquest.

"They have waited 40 years to have a proper inquest into the death of their loved one and this development is a step backwards for them."

Francis Rowntree was 11 when he was shot in April 1972 by a soldier from the Royal Anglian Regiment as he played with friends at the Divis Flats complex in Belfast.

He died four days later from his injuries.

The other adjourned preliminary hearing due to begin on Thursday concerned the loyalist murder of Gerard Slane 24 years ago.

Mr Slane, a 27-year-old father of three, was shot dead by the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) at his home at Waterville Street, west Belfast, in September 1988.

His murder led to allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces.
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