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2 September 2012 Edition

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Report exposes ambush plan in killing of Tyrone Volunteers

SAS executed Kevin Barry O’Donnell, Patrick Vincent, Peter Clancy and Seán O’Farrell rather than arrest them

British soldiers at the scene of the ambush. The vehicle used by the IRA volunteers can be seen on the far right of the image

Justice Treacy described the evidence of ‘Soldier A’, the soldier in charge of the SAS operation that night and who was involved in the killings, as ‘utterly implausible’

A NEW REPORT by Relatives for Justice into a British Army SAS ambush in 1992 that left four Tyrone IRA Volunteers dead says the men were killed in “a premeditated and pre-planned” attack when they could have been arrested instead.

The ambush that left Tyrone Volunteers Kevin Barry O’Donnell, Patrick Vincent, Seán O’Farrell and Peter Clancy dead was carried out by up to 12 SAS soldiers who lay in wait for the Volunteers at Clonoe, near Coalisland, in east Tyrone.

In all, the British soldiers fired 514 rounds in the shoot-to-kill operation.

The report, Ambush, Assassination and Impunity, was commissioned by the families of the dead men.

In their introduction, Relatives for Justice call on the international community to “assist the families’ struggle for justice”.

The central plank of the report is that the British Army and RUC had advance intelligence information that an IRA unit planned an attack on Coalisland RUC barracks on the night of Sunday 16 February 1992 at 10:45pm.

Clonoe reportThe report says:

“Documents disclosed at a preliminary inquest hearing clearly demonstrate that the [crown forces] had prior knowledge of the planned attack. This included the gun to be used and that it had been moved for this purpose from a different location in the county, including its whereabouts, prior to the attack.”

On the basis of this intelligence, the SAS and their superiors were planning their operation a full 36 hours before the ambush.

The report’s investigators quote from handwritten intelligence documents dated 15 February (the day before the ambush) that name two of the dead Volunteers. Kevin Barry O’Donnell and Patrick Vincent, as “IRA suspects” involved in attacks.

The same document states that British Intelligence operatives knew that the Russian-made Degtyarev heavy machine gun was to be driven to the Clonoe Chapel car park after the attack and dismantled.

The families maintain that with such in-depth intelligence it was easier for the British Army and RUC to mount an arrest operation rather than set the men up to be executed. 

Also revealed in the report is information from British Army Intelligence radio logs that O’Farrell’s and O’Donnell’s movements were being monitored. Indeed, O’Donnell was “clearly identified by undercover soldiers in Clonoe car park at 20:47 hours – two hours before the attack on the RUC station”.

Regular British Army and RUC patrols, as well as covert patrols not involved in the ambush, were ordered out of the SAS’s operational area around the RUC barracks and the ambush site.

The information obtained by Relatives for Justice gives a clear and consistent picture.

“There was ample opportunity for arrest of all of the men and the attack on the RUC station could have been avoided,” the report says. “The loss of life was undoubtedly avoidable.”

Clonoe 4 Volunteers

• SAS executed IRA Volunteers Kevin Barry O’Donnell, Patrick Vincent, Peter Clancy and Seán O’Farrell rather than arrest them

A ruling by the Belfast High Court in October 2011 has reinforced the families’ view that the Volunteers’ deaths were unjustified and unnecessary.

Justice Treacy ruled that the wounding of Aidan McKeever, one of two men wounded on the night as the Volunteers were killed, was not justified and awarded him compensation.

Outlining his judgement, Justice Treacy described the evidence of ‘Soldier A’, the soldier in charge of the operation that night and who was involved in the killings, as “utterly implausible”.

Treacy added he intended forwarding the transcripts of the proceedings to the coroner. Although the inquest into the men’s killings was opened in 2002, a full inquest has not taken place.

Speaking at the launch of the Relatives for Justice report last month, Kevin Barry O’Donnell’s sister, Roisin Uí Mhuirí, said she and the other relatives deserve to know what happened.

“It’s about finding out the truth. For 20 years they have refused to tell us the truth of what happened that night.

“This is going to eat away at us until we find out the truth.

“The British Government should hold up its hands.”

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