Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

19 November 1998 Edition

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Car posed no threat

By Laura Friel

The stolen car did not endanger any member of the British paratrooper patrol, an RUC witness said at the retrial of Lee Clegg, the soldier convicted of the murder of Karen Reilly, one of two West Belfast teenagers shot dead by the patrol.

A third teenager was also seriously injured when a British army ``anti joyrider'' patrol ambushed the car in which they were travelling in September 1990.

The British army patrol has claimed they opened fire because the car posed a threat to the lives of soldiers on the patrol. In Belfast High Court, RUC officer Ronnie Gibson, who was accompanying the paratrooper patrol on the night of the shooting, was asked by prosecution lawyer Reg Weir if the car had endangered either himself or any soldier, the RUC man replied, ``No''. When asked if it had hit any soldier, he said, ``definitely not.''

At the time of the shooting, the RUC officer initially supported fabricated claims by the patrol that the vehicle had injured one of their team. Independent eyewitness statements quickly exposed the patrol's account as a tissue of lies. After it was revealed that one of the soldiers had been deliberately injured by another soldier who hit him in the leg with the butt of a rifle, Gibson admitted he had lied in his original statement.

``At that time I didn't want to get anyone in trouble because I knew the soldiers were looking for some justification for firing on the car,'' said Gibson.

The RUC officer gave evidence after Clegg's defence lawyer failed in a bid to rule the evidence inadmissible.

The RUC witness admitted seeing soldiers faking a leg injury. He admitted that the stolen Vauxhall Astra was not being driven in a way which could been seen as posing a threat. It did not bear any of the hallmarks of a stolen car being driven by joyriders as it approached the patrol, he said. Joyriders would often drive normally when not being chased. As the car approached and passed him, Gibson said the vehicle did not go near any of the soldiers and did not leave the centre of the road.

Eyewitness William Heaney told the court that he saw a soldier ``hitting or going to hit'' another soldier following the shooting. Heaney, a traveller whose caravan was on the upper Glen Road, told Judge Kerr he had looked out of his window after hearing a loud noise which he later learned was gunfire. ``There seemed to be a bit of panic at first. Then I saw one soldier hitting or going to hit another soldier on the leg, the upper leg, with a rifle butt.'' The witness then came out of his caravan and saw a soldier lying on the ground. He was ordered back inside by a soldier and so returned to his caravan. The trial continues.

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