Judge orders mums to hand over report on Army base deaths

Belfast Telegraph 19 Jan 2019 BY ALAN ERWIN

Bereaved mothers of two soldiers found dead at a Co Down barracks have failed in a High Court challenge to a coroner’s order for them to disclose a psychiatric report.

Lance Corporal James Ross (30), who was from Leeds, and Rifleman Darren Mitchell (20), from London, died within three months of each other at the Ballykinler base in 2012 and 2013.

Both veterans of Afghanistan, the men were reportedly found hanged. Amid concerns raised over welfare provisions, public hearings at their joint inquest are due to begin early next month. Linda Ketcher and Carol Mitchell, the mothers of the two dead soldiers, commissioned a report from a consultant psychiatrist for the proceedings. This was done in response to reports prepared by a different psychiatrist. Lawyers for the two mothers decided that their report should not be disclosed to coroner Joe McCrisken, or any other agency, on the grounds that it was protected by litigation privilege.

In October last year the coroner rejected that argument and ordered that it should be handed over. The coroner said if the next of kin had obtained the report for civil or criminal litigation he would have upheld the claim for privilege. But he pointed out that the purpose of the inquest is to find answers to a series of questions through an inquisitorial process. Counsel for the two mothers sought a judicial review, claiming that the coroner’s reasoning was flawed. They also argued that he had wrongly assessed the inquest proceedings as being only inquisitorial, and not adversarial.

Dismissing their challenge, however, Mr Justice McCloskey backed the coroner’s decision to order disclosure. He said:

“If their stance is upheld the report will be suppressed and, in consequence, its contents will not be known to the coroner or any other participating agency. “Material evidence will, in consequence, be buried.”

The judge added:

“The coroner was, in my view, bound to conclude, as he did, that this report would not be protected from production in civil proceedings in a court in Northern Ireland on the ground of litigation privilege.”