Police officers who failed to warn the public about the risk of an IRA bomb attack almost 30 years ago could be held to account if fresh inquest proceedings are launched, a court has heard.
Relatives of Eugene Dalton, 54, who was blown up while checking on the welfare of a neighbour, are seeking to overturn a decision not to hold a fresh probe.
Barrister Fiona Doherty QC told Belfast High Court: “It is not solely about the establishment of historical truth but the establishment of responsibility.”
Lawyers for the Dalton family were applying for leave to have a judicial review of the controversial case.
If successful, it would mark the first time the decision-making powers of Attorney General John Larkin QC have been tested in court and could have major implications for other Troubles-related cases.
Mr Dalton, a widower and father of six, died when the IRA booby trap device detonated at a flat in Derry’s Creggan estate in August 1988.
Sheila Lewis, 68, was also killed in the explosion while Gerard Curran, 57, died seven months after being pulled from the rubble.
The incident became known as the “Good Samaritan Bomb”.
In 2013, a Police Ombudsman investigation found the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) had sufficient information and intelligence that some sort of device had been left in the vicinity of the flat - but did not alert anybody about the threat even though the area was declared out of bounds to officers after a car used in a gun attack was abandoned and burned out nearby five days previously.
The Ombudsman said, while responsibility for the deaths rested with the people who planted the bomb, police had failed to protect the victims and the subsequent murder investigation was flawed, inadequate and incomplete.
Ms Doherty told the court: “Police should have joined the dots.”
A number of retired officers including undercover detectives refused to co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigation.
A coroner in any new inquest could compel them to give evidence, it was revealed.
Ms Doherty added: “There are significant witnesses who have significant evidence to give.
“They are available and could be available to an inquest which does have powers to compel witnesses to attend.”
The three friends had gone to the flat because they were concerned for their 32-year-old neighbour. Mr Dalton climbed through a kitchen window, and just as he was about to open the front door to Mrs Lewis and Mr Curran, the bomb went off, collapsing the roof and wrecking three external doors. All three victims were Catholics.
The IRA later apologised, admitting they left a bomb inside a Wellington boot in the flat hallway to kill members of an army search team.
Judge Paul Maguire said there was little chance of holding the IRA terrorists to account and asked if a motivation for a new inquest was to “bring police officers to book for their failings”.
Ms Doherty said: “That is a possibility.”
Meanwhile, it was also argued that the original inquest in December 1989, was ineffective because of legal limitations at the time and the failure to order new proceedings was not compliant with human rights legislation.
New evidence has also been put into the public domain as a result of the Ombudsman’s investigation, the court was told.
Mr Larkin has the power to direct a new inquest in cases where the original inquest has been deemed inadequate or because new evidence has come to light.
He may also take into account the failure of other mechanisms of investigation such as the Police Ombudsman or the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team.
The case was adjourned until November 19 when lawyers for the Attorney General will argue their case.
Afterwards Mr Dalton’s daughter Phyllis Keeley said a new inquest would help “address the injustices felt by her family”.