‘An enormous deal of hurt’: family refused inquest into death of councillor abducted and murdered almost 50 years ago

The decision came despite a watchdog report finding major failings by police investigating the case

The family of a Co Tyrone councillor abducted and murdered almost 50 years ago has revealed that a fresh inquest into his death has been denied – despite a watchdog report finding major failings by police investigating the case.

Patsy Kelly (35), a father-of-five who served as an independent nationalist councillor in Omagh, was last seen driving away from the Corner Bar in Trillick, where he worked, on July 24th, 1974.

On Monday, Mr Kelly’s son, also called Patsy, confirmed the NI Attorney General, Brenda King, had refused their request for a fresh inquest, a decision he said had caused “an enormous deal of hurt to our family”.

Last month, a damning NI Police Ombudsman report found the original RUC investigation into the killing was “wholly inadequate” and that the family had been “failed by police”. Evidence of “collusive behaviours” was also uncovered between some security force members and loyalist paramilitaries.


A series of arrests were made in 2004 after the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reopened the probe. No one has been charged or prosecuted.

The first inquest held after his murder was branded a “whitewash” by the Kellys. They are now applying for a judicial review to challenge the Attorney General’s decision.

“It was with great dismay and anger that we were informed of the Attorney General’s decision to refuse a fresh inquest into the murder of Patsy Kelly,” Mr Kelly said.

“The recent publication of the Ombudsman’s report into Patsy’s murder has highlighted the depth and scale of collusion in a case that has spanned across police, loyalist paramilitaries & British military forces. However, the investigation only had the remit to investigate police misconduct.”

The family has mounted a campaign spanning decades into the murder, led by Mr Kelly’s 81-year-old widow, Teresa.

In an interview with The Irish Times earlier this month, she said: “I’m not dying until I hear the truth”, adding that her pursuit for justice was “for her children”.

Passionate about civil rights, the councillor’s body was discovered almost three weeks after his disappearance by two fishermen at Lough Eyes, near Lisbellaw, Co Fermanagh, floating in shallow water. He had been shot six times and a green nylon rope, attached to a 56-pound weight, had been tied around his waist.

Teresa Kelly was pregnant at the time with their fifth child, Patsy junior.

Rumours began to circulate in the tight-knit nationalist village shortly after the murder that members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), a British army unit set up in 1970, had been involved.

The ombudsman found that RUC detectives failed to adequately verify the alibis of UDR members suspected of involvement.

“Investigative failings were central to the family’s complaint and my investigation has found that there were a number of significant failings,” NI Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson said last month following the publication of her report.

In a statement released on Monday on behalf of his family, Mr Kelly added:

“The granting of a fresh inquest (bearing in mind the original inquest of 1975 was effectively incomplete) would allow the spotlight to focus on UDR involvement in tandem with a then active UVF unit in Fermanagh and would possess the power to compel witnesses to attend and to submit testimonies.

“It is important to remember that the original inquest held into Patsy’s murder delivered an open verdict.

“Given what we now know in regard to the wide scale collusion ... it is simply appalling and incomprehensible that a fresh inquest has been denied.

“After a campaign of almost 50 years, the placement of obstacles by British authorities to the truth is nothing new to our family. This is another truth obstacle that we will overcome. We are never giving up.”

The Kelly family solicitor, Adrian O’Kane stated: “The suggestion that the Kelly family obtained all the relevant answers from the Ombudsman report is both wrong and misconceived. The Police Ombudsman, by definition, is confined to examination of issues relating to the conduct of the RUC/PSNI. The Kelly family have always contended that all of the other components of the State – including Ministry of Defence and the Security Services – have important issues to address and questions to answer resulting from the death of Patsy Kelly. These can only be properly and fully addressed in a fresh Inquest.”

In a statement to The Irish Times, the Attorney General’s office said Ms King “fully appreciates the Kelly family’s disappointment with her decision”.

“All applications to the Attorney General to exercise her powers under section 14(1) of the Coroners Act (NI) 1959 receive careful and objective consideration.

“The Attorney exercises this function entirely independently. The Attorney’s reasons for not directing an inquest have been set out in a letter issued on her behalf to the family’s solicitor.”

The statement added that it was “important to note” that the decision is “not final”:

“The matter can be re-visited should further relevant evidence come to light or further submissions be received. As is the case in relation to all applications, the Attorney General would welcome any such submissions.”

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times