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26 August 2004 Edition

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SAS ran Loughgall shoot-to-kill ambush - Orde admits RUC "abdicated responsibility"


PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde has admitted to the family of one of the victims of the 1987 Loughgall massacre that the then RUC "abdicated their responsibility" for the operation to the British Army SAS. He also shocked relatives of IRA Volunteer Patrick Kelly, one of the nine shoot-to-kill victims, that he would have done exactly the same.

In May 2001, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that the men who died had their right to life violated, and awarded each of the families £10,000 in compensation.

The families of the eight IRA Volunteers killed in the ambush have always said that the men were intentionally gunned down without any warning or attempt to effect arrests. Orde's admission that he would have acted the same in handing over control to the SAS death squad "will be of serious concern to the families of those who died and to human rights groups around the world", says Mairéad Kelly, sister of Patrick.

On 8 May 1987, an Active Service Unit from the East Tyrone Brigade of Óglaigh na hÉireann set out to attack the RUC barracks in Loughgall, County Armagh. Before that terrible night was over, eight IRA Volunteers and a passing civilian — Anthony Hughes — lay dead, the latest victims of Britain's 'unofficial' shoot-to-kill policy.

Hughes' brother, who had been travelling with him in the same car, was shot 14 times and left seriously wounded. Although he survived his injuries, he never recovered from the experience. His carer says he remains too unwell to take his case for compensation to the European Court.

The deaths of IRA Volunteers Patrick Kelly, Séamus Donnelly, Michael Gormley, Declan Arthurs, Eugene Kelly, Patrick McKearney, Gerard O'Callaghan and James Lynagh was the single biggest loss the IRA had suffered since the Tan war.

Relatives of the dead have always known that their loved ones were assassinated by the SAS, which had been lying in wait for the IRA's arrival — but the SAS's leading role in the operation had never before been officially confirmed.

Seventeen years later, representatives of the families of the Loughgall dead this week met with PSNI boss Hugh Orde to discuss the highly controversial circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones.

It was the first time that any PSNI or RUC chief had agreed to meet with family members, despite repeated past requests.

On Monday 23 August, two representatives of the Loughgall Truth and Justice Campaign met with Orde at PSNI headquarters in East Belfast. The meeting lasted an hour and 40 minutes.

During that time, Orde acknowledged that the RUC had been in possession of "specific intelligence" relating to the IRA operation in advance of the attack, and also confirmed to campaign representatives for the first time that the SAS had been in charge of the incident.

Previous to this, the leading role of the SAS had never been officially acknowledged in connection with the Loughgall killings.

The PSNI boss then shocked those present when he added that he would have taken the same action.

"Hugh Orde informed us quite clearly that the RUC had, as he put it, 'abdicated their responsibility' to the British Army," says campaign Director Mairéad Kelly, whose brother Patrick was one of the Volunteers killed. "In other words, RUC chief Jack Herman couldn't deal with it, so he passed it on to the British Army.

"Before this, the role of the SAS has never been acknowledged.

"The RUC had prior knowledge of the attack. Emergency legislation was in place. The men involved could have been arrested. When we mentioned this to Hugh Orde, he claimed that any arrests would only have 'delayed' the attack. But in my opinion, a 'delay' is prevention.

"What is even more worrying is Orde's statement that he would have taken the same decision. This remark will be of serious concern to the families of those who died and to human rights groups around the world.

"What was the point of the British Government having laws in place if the RUC could simply bring in British soldiers to kill people?"

Kelly says that during their meeting this week, Orde suggested that the Loughgall case could now be part of a PSNI review of more than 2,000 unsolved killings, which he has since publically confirmed will include some British state killings.

"However," she says, "we would not accept a PSNI investigation and I doubt that the European Court will accept it either.

"We do not believe that PSNI officers could objectively investigate the actions of former colleagues. There is even the chance that those who were actually involved in Loughgall, and are now serving members of the PSNI, could be charged with investigating themselves.

"But at least now we have a positive direction to take. Hugh Orde has told us he will go to the British GOC on our behalf and ask them to meet with us. For now, I will take him at his word.

"In the meantime, we will continue to request a meeting with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair."


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