AN SAS soldier who shot an IRA man dead as he lay mortally wounded on the ground was justified in firing the fatal shots because he believed his life was still in danger, an inquest jury has ruled.
IRA men Dessie Grew (37) and 23 year-old Martin McCaughey were shot dead by SAS soldiers at a mushroom shed near Loughgall, Co Armagh on October 9, 1990.
The killings caused controversy after it emerged that neither of the IRA men, who had been carrying AK47 rifles, had fired any shots during the entire incident, but were themselves shot more than 30 times by the SAS.
There was further consternation when it emerged that shots had been fired into the bodies of at least one of the IRA men as they lay fatally wounded on the ground.
The result, announced after weeks of hearing evidence, has come as a devastating blow for the dead men’s families who have campaigned for an inquest into the killings for more than 20 years.
Peter McCaughey, brother of Martin McCaughey, said the jury had failed to deal properly with the evidence.
“We had fought for over twenty years to get an inquest which could deliver an effective verdict, which properly reflected the evidence which was presented”, he said.
“My father successfully took the Chief Constable all the way to the House of Lords to ensure that the Chief Constable of the PSNI handed over all documents concerning Martin’s and Dessie’s deaths.
“Yet not a single police or army log which would have contained crucial contemporaneous information concerning the event was said to have been found. My father died without having seen an inquest.
“My mother then took the Chief Constable through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court in London to ensure that the inquest would examine and planning and control of the incident and the steps which the security forces took to ensure that the recourse to lethal force by the British Army was minimised to the greatest extent possible.
“Despite this allegedly being an arrest operation, not one soldier who gave evidence could articulate what the plan was and the jury has failed to deal properly with that.”
Before dismissing the jury coroner Brian Sherrard praised the Grew and McCaughey families for what he described as “remarkable fortitude and dignity” which they had shown throughout the two month inquest.
Mr Sherrard said the dead men’s families had “left no stone unturned” in their 22 year campaign to have an inquest held into the deaths of their loved ones.
However he said the case showed up the strengths and weaknesses of the inquest system in Northern Ireland.
Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane, Solicitors, representing the families of Dessie Grew and Martin McCaughey said he was disappointed by the decision.
“In dealing with the shooting of Dessie Grew, Soldier A, the platoon commander, said that one of his colleagues shot Dessie Grew, not because he presented any threat but because he showed “signs of life”. That was a clear and unequivocal account of the unjustified shooting of a wounded man which occurred after the commander had ordered a ceasefire”, he said.
“Soldier D who administered what was effectively a coup de gras to Dessie Grew, could have kicked away his weapon had he genuinely believed that he posed any threat.
“Two pathologists, Dr Derek Carson, retired Assistant State Pathologist in NI and Dr Nat Cary both gave agreed evidence that the only wound which Martin McCaughey sustained whilst upright entered his back and exited his chest. Clearly Mr McCaughey was not facing the soldiers when he sustained that wound and clearly therefore was not advancing towards soldiers when he was shot.
“Both pathologists agreed that the remainder of his wounds were not inconsistent with him having being shot whilst on the ground, and that he received a fatal head wound from a position in which no soldier admits to having fired a shot.”