22 May 2003 Edition

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RUC destroyed shoot-to-kill evidence

A PSNI spokeperson told a Dungannon court on Tuesday 20 May that vital documents relating to the SAS killings of three IRA Volunteers in Coagh County Tyrone were destroyed by the RUC.

The proceedings are part of a preliminary hearing to determine the relevance of material being requested by legal representatives of the families of seven IRA Volunteers and 76-year-old Roseanne Mallon, shot dead by loyalists. It will eventually allow a coroner to properly examine the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

Volunteers Tony Doris, Lawrence McNally and Pete Ryan died instantly on 6 June 1991, when the car they were driving through Hanover Square in Coagh, Co Tyrone, was riddled with more than 200 bullets and burst into flames. SAS gunmen fired into the crippled vehicle for more than ten minutes from at least eight different positions.

Less than a year later, on Sunday 16 February 1992, another four IRA Volunteers were shot dead by the SAS in Clonoe, Co Tyrone.

They had just carried out a machinegun and rifle attack on the Coalisland RUC barracks, and were removing the 12.7mm machine gun from a vehicle mounting when the SAS opened fire.

Again, the firing continued for at least ten minutes. After it abated, one Volunteer managed to struggle to his feet, his hands in the air to surrender. The SAS opened fire a second time and he fell, fatally wounded.

Volunteers Patrick Vincent, Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Sean O'Farrell and Peter Clancy were all killed that day. All of them were under 23 years of age.

Roseanne Mallon, a pensioner from Lisgallon Co. Tyrone, was shot dead by the UVF as she watched television at the home of her sister-in-law in Killymoyle on 8 May 1994. A gunman fired through the sitting room window of the home, hitting Roseanne four or five times in the back as she sat in a chair. Her sister-in-law later confirmed the blinds on the front windows of the house had been raised at the time. "They knew they were hitting an old woman," she said.

Two months after Roseanne's death, two surveillance cameras were found in a nearby field, pointing directly at the house where she had died. The RUC later issued a statement saying there was no video evidence relating to the killing.

This week, a PSNI spokesperson told the coroner that the "original notes of questions and answer sessions with soldiers involved in the Coagh killings, and some forensic notes, and other statements had been destroyed".

Coroner Roger McLarnon told the court that the documents were "central to the court" and that this was "clearly unsatisfactory".

"When had these been destroyed and under what authority?" he asked.

The PSNI told the court the evidence had been destroyed in 1996 while in Gough Barracks. It was claimed that the documents had been stored in an area that had been contaminated by asbestos dust and therefore, in the interests of Health and Safety, had to be destroyed.

The coronor challenged this statement, asking, "would it have been proper to seal the material and make copies?" He requested that "the principal parties that took these decisions clarify for the court why this had not occurred".

A spokesperson for Relatives for Justice said: "The central issues in all these cases is that the MoD and the PSNI are withholding vital material both from the coronor and the families' legal teams. This has been ongoing for just over a year. The claims today have moved beyond previous claims of public interest and are both bold and breathtaking. They are also somewhat convenient.

"To at this stage introduce or offer this excuse in an insult to our intelligence. When these documents were first sought over a year ago, this claim did not arise. Now, when the coronor might seek to rule that they are relevant to the inquests, it is revealed they have been destroyed?"

Relatives for Justice has raised the matter with the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs on request of the familes, and has asked the Dublin government to raise the issue with their British counterparts."

Eugene McKenna, the lawyer representing some the families involved, said the startling admission is only the latest in attempts by crown forces to thwart the push for a full formal inquiry.

"My major concern is that this comes on the heels of a statement by the MoD, in which they said they had no documentation on any of these cases. We're expected to believe this operation did not generate any documents that would have been archived. It's ridiculous."

In a statement issued to An Phoblacht, a spokesperson for the family of Pete Ryan said: "The Ryan family are outraged at the mere suggestion that the "interview notes" were destroyed due to a health risk at Gough Barracks."

"We believe this to be the lamest excuse from the Ministry of Defence for not supplying information which is important to the inquest. Indeed, we are not surprised that such a revelation has come about."

"We would be interested to know why, after 15 months' hearings the MoD have managed to 'pluck' this one out of the air."

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