Posted By: July 16, 2013

IRA leaders’ right to life was breached by UK, European court finds
UK’s failure to carry out full inquiries into high-profile deaths during Troubles is criticised by European court of human rights
The Guardian ( London). Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The European court of human rights, which criticised the UK over the deaths of three men in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Johanna Leguerre/AFP/Getty Images
The UK’s repeated failure to investigate the army killing of two IRA leaders and the allegedly fatal police beating of a Northern Ireland man amounted to a breach of their right to life, the European court of human rights has ruled.

The decisions – which come at a time of growing Conservative resentment of the judges in Strasbourg – are highly critical of the UK’s failure to carry out full inquiries into high-profile deaths during the Troubles.

Martin McCaughey and Desmond Drew, prominent IRA members, were shot dead by the SAS in a mushroom-growing shed near Loughgall, County Armagh, in October 1990.

The building had been under surveillance by RUC officers because it was a suspected arms dump. The IRA men had been carrying AK-47 rifles but had not opened fire. Their deaths reinforced allegations at the time that the authorities were operating a shoot-to-kill policy.

In their judgment, the Strasbourg judges noted that there had been “inordinately long periods of inactivity during which some disclosure was made” by the police, much of which was “later shown to have been inadequate”.

The judgment added: “These delays cannot be regarded as compatible with the state’s obligation under article 2 [right to life] to ensure the effectiveness of investigations into suspicious deaths.”

The other Northern Ireland case, which attracted similar criticism, related to the death of John Hemsworth in Belfast. He had been walking home in July 1997 when he was passed by a group of people being chased by RUC officers.

Hemsworth was reported to have been hit in the face by a truncheon and kicked on the ground by officers. He suffered a fractured jawbone. His health deteriorated and he subsequently died of a brain haemorrhage.

The judges in Strasbourg said that delays in the investigation into Hemsworth’s death also amounted to a breach of his right to life “by reason of excessive investigative delay”.

The judgments condemned the government’s failure to investigate large numbers of sensitive killings from the Troubles. “The fact that it was necessary to postpone the inquest so frequently and for such long periods pending clarifying litigation demonstrates that the inquest process itself was not structurally capable at the relevant time of providing the applicants with access to an effective investigation which would commence promptly and be conducted with due expedition,” the judges said.

Hemsworth’s family was awarded €20,000 in compensation. The McCaughey and Grew families will receive €14,000 and €11,000 respectively.