Five weeks ago, on Friday March 23rd, the Six-County state’s most senior coroner, John Leckey, attempted to thwart an effort by the family of North Armagh republican activist and former H-Block prisoner Sam Marshall to have a full inquest held into all the circumstances surrounding his murder twenty-two years ago on 7th March 1990.
On that occasion last month, the Coroner sought to delay making any decision on whether or not an inquest should be held. Leckey justified his non-decision by referring the murder case to the Office of the Six County Police Ombudsman – a process that effectively would have ensured the Coroner not having to consider the murder case for up to another six years.
However, the Six County Coroner and the British state completely underestimated the efforts of the Marshall family and their close friends to expose the reality of British state involvement in the murder.
Two years ago, the Marshall family organised a major march and rally to mark the 20th anniversary of Sam’s assassination by a state sponsored death squad. On Sunday, March 7th 2010, several thousand people gathered to commemorate the life of the Lurgan republican and to demand the truth about British involvement with unionist death squads in his murder.
Among those in attendance two years ago were other families who are still seeking answers to questions relating to the role of the British state and its intelligence services in the murders of their relatives, as well as scores of éirígí activists and supporters from all over Ireland. The large procession retraced the route Sam and his two comrades had taken on the night that he was murdered.
More recently, the Marshall family uncovered new facts implicating British forces in Sam’s assassination. On the twenty-second anniversary of Sam’s murder, on Wednesday March 7th of this year, the Marshall family publicly launched a book that expanded upon these facts. (Sam Marshall Family Continue Demand for Inquest)
The book directly linked Sam’s murder to four other murders of nationalists in the Lurgan, Portadown and Dungannon area – the infamous Murder Triangle. More importantly, the book also named senior ranking members of the RUC/PSNI, the British military and British politicians as persons who all had questions to answer regarding the murder.
Over four hundred people attended the original book launch in Lurgan and a further well-attended follow-up launch was held in Belfast. Several thousand copies of the book were printed and distributed not just throughout Ireland but internationally.
In taking such a radical and unprecedented step, by endorsing the naming of names, the family knew they were taking a risk. However, they also knew that it was a necessary step justified in their pursuance of the truth. By publicising all the facts around Sam’s murder to a wider national and international audience, the family knew that pressure would eventually build in support of their campaign for truth.
So, last month, when John Leckey, with the connivance of the Six County Police Ombudsman, thought that he had postponed the family’s quest for truth for another six years, the Marshall family had prepared the ground well for their fight-back.
They sought a new hearing to challenge a major flaw in Leckey’s earlier decision. At that second hearing this past Thursday [April 26], the Marshall family exposed the complete inability of the Six County Police Ombudsman to investigate any actions involving members of the British military and the total powerlessness of that same body to investigate former or retired members of the RUC and PSNI.
In one fell swoop, the Marshall family exposed the impotence of the so-called “policing accountability mechanisms” promoted by constitutional nationalist politicians.
Faced with these irrefutable and unpalatable facts, the Coroner was left with no option but to commence proceedings towards holding a full inquest to investigate the full circumstances, including the role of British state forces, in relation to the murder of Sam Marshall.
In a dramatic and virtually unprecedented about-turn reversing his conclusions of five weeks previously, Leckey informed all those present at the hearing that he would commence the process of seeking disclosure of information from British security forces, including disclosure of all documents and information relating to the murder from the PSNI chief constable, from the British Ministry of Defence and from the unpublished records of the Stevens inquiry into collusion.
Speaking outside the court, Sam Marshall’s sister Fra McCaughey said the family welcomed the steps now being taken to finally initiate inquest proceedings. “It is a lift for the family,” she said. “We are now getting somewhere twenty-two years after our brother’s murder. We have come a long way and we know that, potentially, we still have a long way to go. But we are making progress despite all the vested interests ranged against us.”
éirigí Rúnaí Ginearálta Breandán Mac Cionnaith, himself a friend of the Marshall family and who accompanied the Marshall family at the hearing in the Coroner’s court in Belfast, said, “Sam’s brothers and sisters, along with a committed circle of friends and a dedicated and unselfish solicitor, all of whom have been unflinching in pursuit of the truth regarding state involvement in Sam’s murder, are to be commended for a persistence and determination which has now spanned over two decades. They all know that they have achieved a victory which has negated twenty two years of official state resistance.
“They also know that this small but important victory will entail further battles ahead as the forces of both the British and Six-County state, by seeking to full prevent full public disclosure of all relevant information relating to Sam’s murder, will repeatedly attempt to erect further barriers in the family’s path in the future.
“Those forces need to learn from a recent comment by one of Sam’s brothers when he said ‘Our family have pursued this case for twenty-two years and we will pursue it for another twenty-two years if that is necessary.’
“More importantly, the Marshall family can and should provide inspiration to those countless other families who lost mothers or fathers, brothers or sisters, sons or daughters as a result of state-sponsored terrorism in the Six Counties.
“I would advise those families to get in touch with Sam’s brothers and sisters and to learn from their experiences and their example.
“One key element in the Marshall family’s small but important success was their willingness, their ability, and their capacity to collate and publish undeniable truths about Sam’s murder, supported by their neighbours and friends. That is a task that only families themselves can undertake. It should not be left to others to decide what the families of victims of state violence can or cannot do in pursuit of truth and justice.”
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