Inquest into (Liam) Paul ‘Topper’ Thompson’s death continuesJune 9, 2023
“I fear that having fought for so long that these changes to the law together with the delay tactics we have faced in getting disclosure mean that we may never find out the truth about what happened to my brother.” – Eugene Thompson, Paul ‘Topper’ Thompson’s brother and only surviving next of kin
Coroner Fee heard the final day of this module of the Inquest into the death of (Liam) Paul ‘Topper’ Thompson on Thursday 8 June 2023 at Banbridge Court House. The first module was heard on 3 April 2023 and the second module resumed on Monday 5 June 2023 with evidence being heard from civilian witnesses to this terrible tragedy. The Inquest first opened in 1995 but was adjourned until the first hearing in April 2023.
On Thursday 8 June 2023, the Coroner heard evidence from Tommy Holland, a community worker at Springhill Community House. Mr Holland outlined the history of attacks in the Springhill area which he said was a “hot spot” during the Troubles, with houses in the area being regularly bombed and attacked, requiring the NIO to put up steel grills in houses.
During his cross examination, Mr Holland asked a representative of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) if they had a transcript of the message left by a local resident who had alerted them to suspicious activity at the peace line hours before the murder of Mr Thompson, to which he was advised, “No.”
Mr Holland outlined his engagement with the NIO civil representatives when working on interface community projects and arranging safety measures for local residents. Mr Holland also directed the Coroner and those in attendance at the Inquest to watch the programme ‘A Million Bricks’, which details the history of attack in the area.
Mr Holland described the peace line fence between Springfield Park and Springmartin as being “totally inadequate” and a patchwork of corrugated iron that was breached many times by loyalist gunmen.
When questioned by Sinead Kyle BL for Eugene Thompson, who is Paul’s brother and only surviving next-of-kin, Mr Holland said he knew Topper for years as he helped out with the Féile, building and setting up of the staging. He said he was, “A guy with a permanent smile on his face, I know it was a cliché, but he smiled every time you saw him, he was just an incredible character”.
Mr Holland outlined his work to push for a brick wall to be built at the peace line to provide better protection for residents. When discussing the history of attacks in the area, he emphasised how close the then Henry Taggart Barracks was to the peace line where the attackers escaped on the night Topper was attacked.
Mr Holland gave evidence to the Inquest of the role he played in printing leaflets to assist residents to warn their neighbours about the suspicious activity seen earlier in the day in the ‘no man’s land’ between Springmartin and Springfield. Mr Holland said in evidence that because the area was a hot spot for previous gun and bomb attacks resulting in several deaths, there should have been an immediate response from the NIO and RUC to the concerns raised by residents.
In Mr Holland’s view, the request from a concerned resident to print leaflets warning those living in the area, signified the genuine fear and concern they had that something ominous was taking place especially as it was a hotspot area of attacks.
Paul’s brother, Eugene, welcomed the further progress in this Inquest and expressed great thanks to all those witnesses who attended the Inquest.
Following the hearing of further civilian witness at the Inquest, the Coroner then considered further timetabling and issues including those raised on behalf of the next of kin.
The PSNI were advised by Coroner Fee that she was keen to achieve as much as possible in this Inquest and that she expected the police Public Interest Immunity process to be completed by the end of October 2023 in an expeditious manner. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was also directed to complete their process of preparation by the end of June 2023 with no further extensions of time to be granted as Coroner Fee considered that the police and MOD had already been afforded “oceans of time”.
The Inquest has been listed for a further Preliminary Hearing on 2 October 2023 at 1pm with the possibility of an earlier date should the police or MOD fail to comply with the Coroner’s timetable.
No date has been given for the final module of hearings, but the Coroner indicated her wish that this Inquest, which was categorised as ‘Year 3 Inquest’ as part of the former Lord Chief Justice’s review of legacy inquests, proceed without further delay.
Gemma McKeown, CAJ, solicitor for Mr Eugene Thompson stated: “It is very concerning that hours after this inquest was heard the NIO introduced amendments to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill which would close down inquests not completed by May 2024.”
Paul’s brother, Eugene said: “I fear that having fought for so long that these changes to the law together with the delay tactics we have faced in getting disclosure mean that we may never find out the truth about what happened to my brother.”
“Months after my brother’s murder there was an independent community inquiry with independent judges which found there was collusion in my brother’s death. We have battled this cover up and delay for nearly thirty years.”
Please direct media enquiries to Robyn Scott, Communications & Equality Coalition Coordinator, on 028 9031 6000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The circumstances surrounding the death of (Liam) Paul ‘Topper’ Thompson:
Paul was killed at or about 11.30pm on 27 April 1994 in Springfield Park, West Belfast. He was 25 years old.
He was shot dead in a Grab-a-Cab taxi whilst being given a lift home by an employee, who was himself injured in the attack. His family considers that there is evidence to suggest that the calls to and from Grab-a-Cab were monitored by a scanning device used by loyalist paramilitaries and has since expressed concerns that the call for a ‘pick up’ in Springfield Park that evening may have been a deliberate decoy. The weapon used was a sub-machine gun that has been linked to 5 attempted killings over the period 1990-1993.
Prior to the Paul’s death, his family claim that he was subject to police harassment and believe that the RUC had evidence that the taxi firm ‘Grab-a-Cab’ was the subject of a credible threat.
Prior to Paul’s death, members of the community in Springfield Park had been subjected to regular attacks conducted by loyalist paramilitaries. As a result, many had grills fitted to their windows, drop bars on their front and back doors and even cages installed on the inside of their front doors. Residents were constantly alert and fearful. It was a way of life difficult for many to envisage now. The community, including his family, consider that the RUC and other state agencies, including the Northern Ireland Office (“NIO”), were aware of these attacks and the method by which these paramilitary groups entered Springfield Park was known to both the RUC and the NIO.
On the morning of 27 April 1994, residents claim that they notified the RUC, NIO, and their member of parliament that the peace line separating Springfield Park and Springmartin Road had been compromised by the creation of a hole in the fencing. They were concerned about the access it might give to loyalist paramilitaries to mount an attack. It was a credible fear as in 1992 gunmen had cut a hole in the fence and got into one of their homes. No action was taken to either repair it or provide security for the members of the community even though it was known that the area was subject to regular attacks by loyalist paramilitaries.
Calls for an official public inquiry were refused, and a ‘Community Public Inquiry’ was held in September 1994, involving international jurists and lawyers, including Judge Andrew Somers, Gareth Pierce, Judge Dan Coburn, Richard O’Meara, Dr Ray Murphy, Tom Fox, and Angela Ritchie. Documents were reviewed, statements were taken, evidence heard, submissions received, and a report produced in 1995.
On Monday 5 June 2023 in Banbridge Court House, a number of these residents gave evidence before Coroner Fee. Their anger at the failure of the to respond to their calls that day for assistance was palpable. They consider that lack of action resulted in their worst fears – the loss of life later that night. One resident in particular who had been involved in going door to door to notify residents earlier that day of the risk to their safety due to the hole in the peace line, was one of the first on the scene and tried to assist Mr Thompson as he was dying. In her evidence she said she was called as a witness in the Inquest as the police and NIO ‘did nothing’ and the family and community still have not got answers from the authorities.
During the Inquest hearing on Tuesday 6 June 2023, evidence was heard from a local resident who was a nurse. She outlined in her evidence how she rushed to administer first aid to Mr Thompson and the other injured victim when she heard the gunshots. She confirmed that while she was terrified, she may also be at risk but acted on instinct and ran out to help the victims after calling for an ambulance. She outlined her frustration that the RUC failed to provide any assistance to her despite her asking for it, with only a paramedic soldier assisting in rendering first aid to Mr Thompson.
Additional notes to editors:
- The Next of Kin (NOK), Eugene Thompson, has been concerned about delay in the conclusion of the Inquest which first opened on 3 August 1995 and resumed on 3 April 2023.
- This is classified a Year 3 Inquest according to the former Lord Chief Justice’s 5-year plan for Legacy Inquests.
- The NOK has been pressing for the PSNI and MOD complete their work on witnesses and materials so that speedier progress can be made.
- To date, the Inquest has been hearing evidence from civilian witnesses and yesterday was the final day of Module 2. Following further submissions from the NOK, the Coroner has directed the PSNI and MOD to complete their outstanding work by defined dates as they have already been afforded “oceans of time”.
- Just hours after that came the news that the NIO had introduced amendments to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which would close down all inquests not completed by May 2024.
- All those acting for NOK in ongoing Inquests will be keen to ensure that requests for further time by PSNI and MOD do not result in long-awaited Inquests being unable to conclude.