13 December 2005

New rules tested at Wright inquiry

Belfast Telegraph

First time laws on secrecy in operation

By Chris Thornton
13 December 2005

Billy Wright - BBC photo

Controversial new secrecy rules for public inquiries faced their first test today when a hearing into the murder of LVF leader Billy Wright reopened in Belfast.

Wright's father, David, has threatened to withdraw from the inquiry because today's hearing marked the first time the Inquiries Act has been employed. He may also mount a legal challenge.

The new rules - which allow the Government to determine what evidence stays secret - have also raised objections from the family of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane.

Mr Finucane's family were due to meet Archbishop Robin Eames today as they discuss their concerns about the law with unionist and Protestant leaders. They met UUP leader Sir Reg Empey yesterday and hope to meet the DUP later.

The family has mounted a global campaign to discourage judges from taking up the planned inquiry into the Finucane murder while it remains under the Inquiries Act. So far that campaign has been a success.

The Act, which was rushed through Parliament before the general election earlier this year, allows the Government to decide what evidence may or may not be heard in public and what may be excluded from the inquiry's report.

Previously those decisions were at the discretion of the inquiry's chairman.

A number of judges, including Bloody Sunday Inquiry chief Lord Saville, have objected to the new law, along with the Irish government and a number of human rights organisations.

The Wright and Finucane murders were among four collusion cases that the former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory recommended for public inquiries.

Wright's case attracted suspicion because his INLA killers were able to smuggle guns into the Maze Prison and avoid security to carry out the murder.

In the 1989 Finucane murder, a police investigation has established that collusion took place between his UDA killers and the security forces.

The Government agreed to set up the inquiries recommended by Justice Cory, but held back on establishing the Finucane inquiry until the Inquiries Act could be passed.

The chairmen of the other two inquiries set up on Justice Cory's recommendation - investigating the murders of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson and Portadown man Robert Hamill - have indicated that they will not seek to use the Inquiries Act.

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