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Robert Verkaik: Bereaved families have a right to know truth

Thursday 22 October 2009 00:00 BST

The Government's determination to press ahead with secret inquests in the face of fierce public opposition defies reason. What could matter so much that the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, would risk another embarrassing parliamentary defeat over civil rights?

One reason might be the growing reliance by the police and security services on phone-tap evidence and the risk to future operations should intercepted material routinely be disclosed at an inquest.

To support this point, ministers cite the inquest of Azelle Rodney, a 24-year-old Londoner shot by police, which has been suspended for more than four years. The police say that the evidence in this case includes sensitive intercept material about their investigation.

But one case does not justify a power that strikes at the heart of the public right of access to the coronial inquest system. If intercept evidence is such a troubling concern, then ministers should legislate to tackle this and not bring in a catch-all power.

The driving force behind this proposal is more likely to be a desire to protect national security. But national security has a nasty habit of covering government embarrassments. For example, ministers would find it difficult to resist using a power to hold an inquest in secret if they knew evidence was to emerge showing that they had acted negligently.

Bereaved families have a right to know the whole truth about how a relative has died, not a pick 'n' mix selection of the evidence.

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