Page last updated at 17:43 GMT, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 18:43 UK

Leckey hits out at chief constable over Stevens papers

Chief Constable Matt Baggott
Chief Constable Matt Baggot was criticised by coroner John Leckey

The senior NI coroner has criticised the chief constable for his handling of a request to trace files related to controversial Troubles murders.

John Leckey said he received a "far from satisfactory reply" from Matt Baggott to his request for information.

"The reply gives the impression that he (Mr Baggott) personally felt it didn't involve him," Mr Leckey said.

"My position is it does. He is chief constable and has responsibilities that go with that office."

Mr Leckey had written to Mr Baggott requesting he examine files collated by the inquiry team led by former Met Commissioner Lord Stevens to establish whether any papers related to a series of murders that have still to go to inquest.

Preliminary hearings were held in Belfast into two of those deaths on Wednesday: Sean Brown, 61, who was murdered by loyalists in Bellaghy, Co Londonderry in 1997, and Liam Thompson, who was shot dead by gunmen who crossed the peace line into a republican estate in west Belfast three years earlier.

The Stevens Inquiry, which operated between 1989 and 2003, investigated allegations of state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries during the conflict.

It compiled a vast amount of evidence, stretching to 10 million pages held in 84 filing cabinets.

Mr Leckey wants to know whether any of the killings due for inquest are mentioned in the documents.

If I write to the chief constable I expect a reply from the chief constable and I want to make that very clear
John Leckey
NI senior coroner

If they are, he wants the files disclosed to the court to assist his investigations.

The Stevens documents are being transported from the team`s base in London to police storage in Northern Ireland.

Mr Leckey expressed his displeasure at the response he got from the police to his request for the archive to be searched.

The PSNI letter did not indicate whether the papers would be examined and Mr Leckey was particularly critical that it was not penned by Mr Baggott himself, but by an inspector.

"If I write to the chief constable I expect a reply from the chief constable and I want to make that very clear," he said.

Richard Ferguson, representing the police, urged the coroner to view the letter as a "holding" response.

He said the police were not in a position to indicate what individuals were named in the Stevens documents because only half of the files had been delivered from London.

"Until we physically have the documents, it`s hard to say whether we have discharged our Article 8 duty (to disclose relevant material to court)," he said.

He also noted that not all the archive was on an indexed database, with many files only stored in paper format.

Mr Leckey said Mr Ferguson`s remarks had given him some reassurance that the police were being proactive with the archive.

However, he expressed concern at the lawyer`s estimate that it could take until the end of the year until all the files were in Belfast.

"I thought this would be a matter of just hiring a lorry," he said.

Mr Ferguson said it was not that straightforward and the operation was logistically challenging.

The coroner said he wanted a more detailed response from the police clarifying how they were going to undertake his request.

He said he also needed clarity on who actually owned the Stevens archive and said he was not yet prepared to accept the police claim that it was their property.

Mr Leckey said in the interim he would accept the position that the chief constable was only the "custodian" of the documents.

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