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No progress unless victims’ issues ‘dealt with transparently’

There will not be political progress in Northern Ireland until it is accepted that victims’ issues need to be dealt with in a transparent way, the son of a Catholic RUC officer shot dead 39 years ago said.

Sergeant Joseph Campbell’s murder is one of more than 50 stalled inquests forming part of a review into the most highly-disputed legacy cases in a bid to assess why they have not been heard, in some instances almost 45 years after the event.

Sgt Campbell’s son, also Joe, said the granting of an inquest into his father’s killing is a “victory” for his family, and praised Lord Justice Weir for his comments during the two-week review when he posed serious questions to the Government about its resourcing of investigations into past murders.

Mr Campbell was speaking at a conference in London on the legacy of the Troubles, chaired by former President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

Relatives of those killed, including Michael O’Hare, whose 12 -year-old girl sister Majella was shot by the British Army, and Alan McBride, whose wife Sharon was killed in the IRA bombing of a fish shop on Belfast’s Shankill Road, attended the Troubles, Tragedy And Trauma: Northern Ireland’s Historic Legacy event.

Mrs McAleese said the pain felt by loved ones of those who died in the violence that gripped the country is still fresh.

She said: “It tells us something about the shelf life of these stories, the shelf life of grief, and of sadness and of these people who have been what you might call, I believe, patiently impatient.”

Sgt Campbell, a father-of-eight, was shot dead as he closed a police station in 1977. A Police Ombudsman’s report subsequently said the murder could have been prevented by senior RUC commanders, but said it did not believe there had been collusion.

His son, Joe Campbell, said explaining to the next generation what happened to the loved ones they never got the chance to meet is “difficult when the system will not acknowledge the wrong that was done”.

It is necessary to accept the need for truth and justice regarding the past, he said, before Northern Ireland can progress to a brighter future.

He said: “In order that the political institutions in Northern Ireland can make progress, people need to come to an understanding that issues like ours have to be dealt with in the public eye.”

Describing the moment on Friday when Lord Justice Weir acknowledged his family’s wait for truth had gone on “too long”, Mr Campbell said ” the lights came on” for his mother Rosemary.

He said: “It is the first time in 39 years my family has felt this is someone (the judge) who is on the side of attempting to get to the truth, and he’s dealt very robustly with the notion some organisations over there (Northern Ireland) cannot provide the necessary correspondence in order that the cases can be progressed.”

Lack of money to search for and process documents has been a constant refrain from lawyers for the Police Service of Northern Ireland and watchdogs which scrutinise them as well as the Ministry of Defence.

Despite having been left disappointed countless times in the past after “knocking on so many doors”, Mr Campbell said he still has hope, adding that he and others affected will not stop in their struggle for justice.

He said: “We’re resilient people and we will continue until we find the truth.”

The killings under review span allegations of security force misinformation to frame the IRA for bombings, state collusion in loyalist murders, inept police investigations, and IRA men shot dead by the army as part of a claimed policy of shooting to kill in which civilians were killed in the cross-fire.

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Lord Justice Weir will now compile a report on the cases, which relate to almost 100 deaths, for the head of Northern Ireland’s judiciary, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan.

He is determining why they are still stuck in the coronial system and identifying a sequence for hearing them.

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