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O’Connor inquest: SF MLA may be called to give evidence

January 25, 2016

The inquest into the murder of an Armagh man whose body was discovered in Newry Canal two years after his disappearance, may call on Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly to give evidence, a Coroner’s Court has heard.

Gareth O’Connor (24) disappeared in 2003 on his way to sign bail in Dundalk on a charge of Real IRA membership. His body was found two years later in a car pulled from Newry canal. His family allege he was killed by the IRA, but this has been denied.

At a preliminary hearing, the court was told that Mr O’Connor’s father had claimed Mr Kelly attended their house on two occasions and offered assurances that the IRA was not involved. It emerged the MLA could be asked to give details of the enquiries he made about alleged IRA involvement in the murder of the father-of-two.

Counsel for the Coroners Service, Mr Gerry McAlinden, said: “If he did what he is alleged to have, he did carry out some investigations and came back to the family. It may be relevant to ascertain from him the nature of those enquiries.”

An inquest for Mr O’Connor was suspended last year when it emerged the murder suspect had mistakenly been issued with a so-called on the run (OTR) letter.

It was revealed that Mr Kelly had been the “postman” for the document that stated that the individual was no longer wanted, the court was told.  The inquest was subsequently stopped to allow police to assess if a prosecution was possible after the government announced it would no longer stand over the OTR letters.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly may be called to give evidence at the inquest into Gareth O’Connor’s death, a Coroner’s Court has heard.

The MLA could be asked to explain enquiries he made about alleged IRA involvement in the murder of the father-of-two.

Mr O’Connor (24) disappeared in 2003 on his way to sign bail over the border on a charge of Real IRA membership. His body was found two years later in a car pulled from Newry canal. His family allege he was killed by the IRA, but this has been denied.

A preliminary hearing at Belfast’s Laganside Court was told that the victim’s father claimed Mr Kelly attended their house on two occasions and offered assurances that the IRA was not involved.

Gerry McAlinden, counsel for the Coroners Service, said: “If he did what he is alleged to have, he did carry out some investigations and came back to the family. It may be relevant to ascertain from him the nature of those enquiries.”

An inquest for Mr O’Connor was halted last year when it emerged the murder suspect had mistakenly been issued with a so-called on the run (OTR) letter.

Mr Kelly had been the “postman” for the document that stated that the individual was no longer wanted, the court was told.

The inquest was stopped to allow police to assess if a prosecution was possible after the Government announced it would no longer stand over the OTR letters.

Police have yet to question the murder suspect, who lives in the Republic.

The OTR scheme came to public prominence in 2014 after the prosecution of a man for the murder of four soldiers in an IRA bombing in Hyde Park, London, in 1982 was halted when it emerged he received one of the letters in error, when he was in fact wanted by the Metropolitan Police.

Co Donegal man John Downey (63), who denied involvement in the bombing, walked free from the Old Bailey when the judge ruled that his arrest had been an abuse of process.

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