THE INQUEST into the death of a teenager shot dead in Belfast in 1975 has been fixed for full hearing.
Patrick Crawford, 15, was killed by a single shot to the chest as he walked through the grounds of the Royal Victoria Hospital.
The youngster's family have now welcomed the decision of the coroner to fix the inquest for a full hearing before the May 1, 2024 deadline imposed by the controversial Legacy Act.
The hearing, which is set to last for two weeks, is due to get under way next March.
"The moral and legal obligation to properly investigate and, where necessary, prosecute those responsible for the killing of innocent children is a fundamental given in a democracy," said solicitor Patricia Coyle of law firm Harte Coyle Collins.
Crawford was shot on August 10, 1975 as he walked through the grounds of the hospital with two women.
Kathleen Faloon and Annie Miskimmon gave evidence at the original inquest in December 1979 that the youth was unarmed.
They said he had asked if he could accompany them through the grounds from the Grosvenor Road to the Falls Road because he was afraid.
According to Harte Coyle Collins, Crawford's family believe he was shot dead by the army with one high velocity shot.
The coroner, Judge Gilpin, opened the inquest in March 2022 and heard evidence, including statements of evidence from family members.
He subsequently adjourned the inquest to hear evidence from pathology and ballistic experts as well as other civilian and any military witness evidence once full disclosure had been provided by the MOD, PSNI and other state agencies.
At a Preliminary Hearing this month, Judge Gilpin fixed the inquest for a full hearing on March 11, 2024 for two weeks at Armagh Courthouse.
Legacy Act 'raises serious questions'
The deadline imposed by the Legacy Act is the subject of multiple legal challenges by relatives of other victims of the conflict, including the family of Annette McGavigan.
A former British soldier was recently questioned about the killing of the 14-year-old, who was shot dead in Derry on September 6, 1971.
The application for a fresh inquest into her killing is awaiting the outcome of a progressed Legacy Investigation Branch police investigation.
The Legacy Act will scrap investigations and inquests into Troubles-era cases such as those involving Crawford and McGavigan.
Instead, it will offer conditional immunity for those who cooperate with an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).
Ms Coyle, whose firm is representing the Crawford and McGavigan families, said the Act 'deprived the families of children killed in the conflict of the possibility for a criminal investigation'.
"Our clients know of no society which would tolerate such a move," said Ms Coyle.
"Our clients know of no parent or sibling who would tolerate such a move.
"Our clients know of no parent who would rest until achieving some measure of public accountability and justice for the killing of their child.
"The parents and siblings of children killed in Northern Ireland should be entitled to access all routes to justice available to parents in other legal jurisdictions.
"For our clients the ICRIR is no substitute for our public court processes."
She added: "Comparing this new mechanism in Northern Ireland to how the killings of children are treated in other democracies, with no statute of limitations on continued criminal investigations, no restriction on investigative resources and prosecutions, no restrictions on scrutiny by judges via public inquests and litigation, raises serious questions for our clients."