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29 June 2000 Edition

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``A terrible atrocity''

BY LAURA FRIEL

The families of three unarmed IRA Volunteers shot dead by the British SAS in disputed circumstances in 1978 are calling for the full facts to be acknowledged by the British government. ``We only want the truth,'' said Margaret Brown, mother of Volunteer Dennis Brown.

Speaking at a Belfast press conference, the mothers of two of the dead described the day their sons were killed. Dennis Brown, Jackie Mailey and Jim Mulvenna were all young men in their twenties; all three had young children of their own. A fourth man, William Hanna (26), a Protestant passer by on his way home with a friend, was also killed.

All four unarmed men were shot dead by an SAS assassination squad which had staked out an unoccupied post office depot in North Belfast and waited for their victims to walk into the killing zone.

The SAS had been tipped off by an informer that a four-man IRA unit planned to firebomb Ballysillan depot. Over 170 shots, without warning, were fired by the ambush team of five SAS soldiers and an RUC officer. One man was repeatedly shot by two soldiers as he lay seriously injured on the ground.

In the ensuing cover up, the British Army initially claimed there had been an exchange of fire but no weapons were recovered at the scene. There was no forensic evidence to suggest that the men had even handled weapons and the inquest accepted that the dead men had been unarmed.

British Army claims that warnings were given by the team before opening fire were dismissed by civilian eye witnesses, including a companion of the civilian killed during the SAS operation.

Demonisation of the dead men in the British media attempted to obscure the lies told by the British Army and authorities. At inquest, the SAS team changed their story, and claimed they'd returned fire after they ``thought'' they were being fired at.

In the words of Monsignor Raymond Murray, their statements were ``well spiced with imaginary firing from phantom gunmen, shouts of warnings and escaping men in `firing positions' and seemingly `carrying a handgun'.

Fr. Murray described the ambush as a ``terrible atrocity''. The British had ``got away with it'' by peddling the myth that three of the men somehow ``deserved to die''. At the time of the shooting, British military sources leaked spurious stories to the media.

The Daily Mail headline the morning after the killings claimed that the dead men were ``suspects'' in the La Mon bombing. ``Depot bombers carried Napalm'' claimed the tabloid press.

A call for an inquiry into the SAS killings by the Hanna family in 1978 was rejected out of hand by the then British Secretary of State, Roy Mason. For over two decades, relatives of the deceased have sought to establish the truth about the death of their loved ones.

Until recently, repeated requests by family members for a copy of the inquest documents had been refused, but earlier this year papers were handed over to a solicitor acting on behalf of the families.

Outside of the obvious prevarication in the statements of the SAS and RUC personnel involved in the killings, the inquest documents raise serious doubts about the British Army operation.

Premeditated and pre-planned killings contravene Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to life, a spokesperson for the families and sister of Dennis Brown, Geraldine Keenan, told the conference.

``This convention provides for the right to life and a right to a fair trial. Both rights were blatantly denied to those killed. The SAS were determined that no prisoners were to be taken alive that night.

``Those who denied these fundamental rights are the same people who condemn terrorism and claim a moral superiority in the conflict of the last thirty years. That particular lie was exposed in the Ballysillan massacre. We are determined to expose the other lies and falsehoods that the British government have encouraged to distort the facts of this case,'' she said.

The families went on to describe the ``double burden endured all these years.'' Not only were their loved ones killed without mercy but the authorities then treated their grieving relatives with contempt.

``For hours our loved ones lay dead in the street. We were not informed about their deaths until morning,'' said Geraldine. Identifying the bodies was a harrowing ordeal made a great deal worse by the attitude of the RUC.

Kathleen Magee went to identify her partner, Jim Mulvenna. She innocently asked her father, who had accompanied her to the morgue, why Jim's body was wet. An RUC man standing close by overheard the question and gleefully said: ``Wouldn't you be wet if you were lying out in the rain all night.''

``A few months after the killing a man,claiming to be a witness to the shooting called into Ardoyne chapel,'' said Geraldine. ``He claimed that he heard the men surrender, he had seen murder committed, and his mind had been disturbed by what he had witnessed.''

``The British described those they killed as ``terrorists'' but to us they were husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles. They were not faceless men. They were popular individuals in this community. They were proud IRA Volunteers.''

The families are calling for any witnesses to come forward. ``They were human beings with human rights,'' said Geraldine. `` They did not deserve to die as they did.''
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