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18 March 1999 Edition

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Paratrooper Lee Clegg acquitted

Getting away with murder?



by Laura Friel

``A farrago of untruths,'' was how Judge Kerr summed up Lee Clegg's testimony as he delivered his verdict at the retrial of the British paratrooper at Belfast High Court last week. The Judge branded Clegg a liar as he acquitted the soldier of murdering West Belfast teenager Karen Reilly. Karen Reilly was fatally wounded when a paratroop patrol opened fire on the stolen car in which she was travelling in September 1990. A conviction of attempting to wound Martin Peake, the driver of the vehicle who also died, was upheld. A third teenager was also seriously injured in the incident but no charges were ever brought against any of the British soldiers who shot her. In a 189-page judgement, Kerr dismissed Clegg's version of the shooting as ``untruthful and incapable of belief.'' The British soldier's claims of where he was standing at the time of the shooting according to the Judge were, ``a farrago of untruths born out of the desperate need to distance himself as much as possible from Aindow.''

At Clegg's original trial fellow paratrooper Chris Aindow was found guilty of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by faking an injury as a justification for the killings. Aindow was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for the attempted murder of Martin Peake but his case has not attracted the same high ranking support as that of his colleague. Independent witnesses saw members of the patrol deliberately injuring Aindow to back up their false claim that the stolen vehicle had struck a soldier before being fired upon. The third victim of the shooting has denied that there was even a roadblock. She claimed the patrol had been hiding in a ditch when the firing first began. An RUC officer who had accompanied the patrol that night originally made a statement backing the soldiers' version but retracted his evidence when the independent witnesses exposed the story as a tissue of lies. At his retrial Lee Clegg attempted to resurrect the original lie. Kerr said Clegg had ``concocted the story'' that he had fired because he believed that Aindow had been struck by the car. Clegg's claim that he knew nothing about fellow members of his patrol deliberately inflicting an injury to Aindow's leg to cover up their crime, was dismissed by the judge as ``a most remarkable coincidence''. Acquitting Clegg of murder, Kerr said that although it was ``very likely he did'', the judge could not be certain that Clegg had fired the fatal round.

Upholding the second conviction for attempting to wound Martin Peake, Kerr said he was ``fully convinced that he fired after the car intending to hit and disable the driver''. The shot was fired when there was no danger to himself or his patrol, the judge said. For nationalists across the Six Counties, Clegg's acquittal was only marginally worse than the euphoria of the British media who had lobbied so hard for Clegg's release.

Spearheading the campaign, the Daily Telegraph gloried in the moment of their triumph. Lee Clegg was ``no less a victim of injustice, in his own way, than the Maguires, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and Judith Ward.'' But the ``chattering classes'' had turned away from Clegg because he was ``a soldier, worse a paratrooper and that put him beyond the Pale''. Those opposing the campaign in support of Clegg were dismissed as a ``loose alliance of left-wingers, nationalists and liberals.'' In the dulcet tones of the Daily Telegraph's correspondent, Clegg was not a liar merely ``handicapped by shortcomings in his powers of expression.'' ``No English jury would ever have been willing to convict him of any crime in the first place,'' the Telegraph contends. Getting away with murder? No, surely not!
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