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17 February 2000 Edition

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O'Neill's killer gives evidence

BY FERN LANE

The Metropolitan police officer responsible for firing the fatal shots at Diarmuid O'Neill gave evidence to the inquest into the killing on Monday 14 February. Identified only by the name `Kilo' and giving evidence from behind a screen, the officer claimed that he opened fire because he thought his own life was in danger.

He told the court that he believed he was justified in opening fire because Diarmuid's body language ``suggested he was holding a weapon. This was a man who was going to kill me. He was standing in a classic boxer stance with his hands down''. He also claimed that Diarmuid O'Neill ``was not reacting to anything I said''. It was then that he made the decision to open fire. Along with the nine other police officers who have given similar evidence, Kilo repeatedly claimed not to have heard Diarmuid or the others in the room say that they were unarmed and giving themselves up.

Michael Mansfield, cross examining, pointed out the disparity between Kilo's testimony and the evidence presented on the opening day of the inquest. Then it was said that police officers involved in the raid had been incapacitated by the high use of CS gas and that this had lead to the chaotic events during which Diarmuid was shot. Mansfield said, ``With eyes streaming, choking and unable to breathe; and with the lobby filled with smoke, you see a figure and that is all you see. I suggest that you were not in a position to make a decision.''

Paul Phillippou, spokesperson for the Justice for Diarmuid O'Neill Campaign, told An Phoblacht: ``The key feature of police evidence is that it appears to come from a rehearsed script and that not one of them will admit to any failings in the raid, despite the unnecessary death of Diarmuid O'Neill. Most have said that they would change nothing about that day.''

The summing up of the case is due to begin on Thursday 17 February, with the jury being sent out to consider their verdict on Friday 18.

Named officers who have given evidence to the inquest are:

DCS Bunn - acting Commander of the armed anti-terrorist branch SO13 at the time and in overall charge of the operation. DCS Bunn told the inquest that there was nothing to learn from the case and that he would not do things differently in a similar situation. He would not agree that Diarmuid should have been carried from the premises rather than dragged down several flights of steps. He did accept, however, that the firearms and detonators found in storage had been rendered harmless before the arrest and that the room in which Diarmuid was staying had been searched throughly beforehand and that no weapons or explosives found.

DC Bunn also stated that the arrest plan had been changed several times, saying that it was impractical to carry out arrests of the ASU in the street. He authorised CS gas despite the fact that he had not been trained in its use, and was unaware of the different types of gas. He was also unaware of the police's own guidelines that CS gas should not be used against any subject suspected of carrying a weapon.

DCI Michael Jones - SO13. DCI Jones also admitted that the room had been searched two or three times and nothing found. Further, he accepted that evidence from surveillance equipment gave no reason to suspect that there were weapons or explosives held in the room. He claimed that the security services had told him that they heard a Browning being `racked'. This transpired to be the sound of a can of coke being opened, but this information was not properly disseminated. He also told other police officers a few hours before the raid that the suspects had hand grenades in the room. Their location was in the storage facility and this had been confirmed by the security services. DCI Jones insisted that, despite all this, he still felt that there were explosives in the room. During cross-examination, he also confirmed that at the briefing session before the raid he had told police officers that the suspects may have been in possession of an automatic weapon.

Alwyn Jones - responsible for searching the premises after the shooting and arrests. Jones told the court that he was unable to enter the room until the following afternoon because of the intolerable level of CS gas, despite bringing in fans in an attempt to clear it. Under cross-examination, he agreed that it would have been possible to arrest subjects in the street and that he had taken part in four such cases.

DC Waldron - senior officer in charge of SO19. DC Waldron confirmed that he had suggested that CS gas be added to the plan. He also said that until shortly before the raid that plans had included arresting the subjects in the street.

DC Williams - SO19 support for the anti-terrorist squad. He admitted that the arrests could have taken place in street if desired. He said that instructions for the use of CS gas came very late. Four hours before the raid, he was told the suspects had been tampering with floorboards, building barricades and mention of a hand grenade was heard, all of which was subsequently exposed as nonsense. Although he stated that the amount of CS gas used was calculated from photos and descriptions of the premises, Williams conceded that he could not in fact make any valid calculations because he did not know the concentration of the gas.

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