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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 15:34 GMT
Reports court case adjourned
Pat Finucane
Pat Finucane was a high profile Belfast solicitor

Legal action against the British Government's decision not to publish reports into four controversial murders in Northern Ireland has been adjourned for three weeks.

A judicial review into the government's failure to give a date for the publication of the Cory reports was due to begin at the High Court in Belfast on Monday.

The families of murdered solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson as well as relatives of loyalist leader Billy Wright had applied for the judicial review.

But an initial application on behalf of Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy to have the proceedings adjourned for three weeks was granted by Mr Justice Gillen.

He said he granted the application "reluctantly" and wished to make it clear he did so in the expectation that the court would be given dates for publication of the reports in three weeks time.

The judge said he had to balance the desire of the families of the victims to have the reports published against any potential risk to the more than 100 people named in the documents.

Earlier, the court heard that the British Government was stalling on the publication of the reports "in order to sex down their content".

The claim was made by a lawyer for the family of Mr Finucane who was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries, the UDA, at his home in Belfast in 1989.

I want assurances that the report will not be delayed interminably and that the government will not come back in three weeks' time seeking yet more delay
Mr Justice Gillen

Judge Peter Cory examined allegations of collusion surrounding some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

These included the murder of Mr Finucane, the killing of Catholic man Robert Hamill in Portadown in 1997, the murder of Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright in the Maze Prison in 1997 and the murder of Rosemary Nelson in Lurgan in 1999.

The retired Canadian judge was appointed by the British and Irish Governments in 2001.

Last October, he delivered six reports to the London and Dublin administrations on eight killings.

The British Government says it is still considering the legal and security implications of publishing the judge's findings.

'Unfettered access'

In his application to have the case adjourned for three weeks, Declan Morgan QC, said the government faced a difficult balancing exercise.

He said it had to publish the reports within a time scale which satisfied the families, but without rushing into print and endangering the people named in them.

It looks as if there is an attempt going on in the background to tinker with the content of this report - the families fear the government is sexing-down the report
Seamus Treacy QC

If it was given the extra three weeks, the government would either publish within that time or, "if not actually in that time frame, it will set out a framework for publication", said the lawyer.

Mr Justice Gillen questioned the delay of four and a half months since the government received the reports.

"The government have virtually unfettered access to personnel and unfettered access to man hours," he said.

The judge said he wanted assurances that the report would not be "delayed interminably" and that the government would not come back to him in three weeks' time seeking yet more delay.

Seamus Treacy QC, for the Finucane family, said there was a belief the government was trying "cynically to delay publication".

Two key witnesses in the case had already been lost, he said.

Former UDA quartermaster William Stobie was shot dead in December 2001 and former Army agent Brian Nelson died last year.

"It looks as if there is an attempt going on in the background to tinker with the content of this report. The families fear the government is sexing-down the report," said Mr Treacy.

Court bid over Finucane report
13 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland
Dublin announces killings inquiry
18 Dec 03  |  Northern Ireland
Finucanes request murder report
01 Dec 03  |  Northern Ireland
Judge completes murder reviews
23 Sep 03  |  Northern Ireland
Unresolved deaths: A question of collusion?
02 Aug 01  |  Northern Ireland

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