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6 April 2000 Edition

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Euro Court spotlight on shoot to kill


The European Court of Human Rights has agreed to examine the cases of 12 nationalists and republicans shot dead in the Six Counties by state and pro state forces in disputed circumstances.

The ruling, handed down on Wednesday 5 April is a serious blow to the British government, which fought hard to prevent the cases being heard in the European Court, and indicts the British for not properly investigating the killings as required by the Human Rights Convention.

The cases, which involve four separate incidents, have been taken to Strasbourg by relatives of the dead men. The court heard details of the RUC shooting of unarmed IRA Volunteer Gervais McKerr in 1982, the SAS ambush of eight IRA Volunteers and one civilian in Loughgall in 1987, the RUC shooting of unarmed IRA Volunteer Pearse Jordan in 1992 and the loyalist shooting of Sinn Féin member Patrick Shanaghan in Castlederg in 1991.

And according to Mairéad Kelly, sister of IRA Volunteer Patrick Kelly, shot dead at Loughgall, the British policy of shoot-to-kill will now now be scrutinised in court: ``The Stalker/Sampson report into the six killings in Armagh in 1982 may also be examined in the European Court,'' she said. ``We believe the whole circumstances surrounding the shoot-to-kill policy will be exposed and that the cover up that has kept the truth from families will be opened up also.''

Lawyers acting on behalf of the families told the court that the killings involved allegations of crown force shoot to kill and collusion with loyalist death squads.

Sinn Féin's Bairbre de Brún described the ruling as a landmark decision. ``Gradually the layers of lies and cover up are peeled away and the British record of human rights violations exposed on the internatinal stage,'' she said. ``I congratulate the families for their persistance in searching for the truth.''

A large group of relatives, friends and supporters from as far away as America travelled to Strasbourg to attend the hearing. Amongst them was Patrick Shanaghan's 75-year-old mother, accompanied by his sister Mary. ``We are convinced that security services had something to do with Patrick's murder,'' said Mary. ``This is our last chance to find the truth.''

Roisin Kelly, the sister of Patrick Kelly killed in Loughgall, says amongst the many questions to which her family needs answers is this: If the SAS were able to stake out the barracks at Loughgall for over 17 hours prior to the shooting, why was no attempt made to arrest the IRA Volunteers? The inquest into her brother's death was a ``complete farce'' says Roisin. ``We feel the European court is the only place we'll get a fair hearing.''

Further information to back the families' fears that their loved ones were deliberately set up and ambushed by the SAS in Loughgall emerged in the media this week. Martin Ingram, a British Intelligence whistleblower and former member of the covert Force Research Unit (which ran agents and surveillance operations in the Six Counties) has claimed that the authorities had advance notice of the IRA's plan to attack Loughgall barracks. The information came from an electronic bugging device planted in the home of Gerard Harte, who was later also shot dead by the SAS in a separate incident.


``In death, denied the most basic human rights.''


``If this [investigation] had been carried out by any American police department, every officer involved would have been fired.''

  I have never seen a case where all the evidence points so loudly to one conclusion. Patrick Shanaghan was murdered by the British government, more specifically with the collusion of the police. 
Judge Andrew Somers

These are the words of Andrew Somers, a retired Wisconsin judge, commenting on the RUC's response to the murder of a Castlederg Catholic in 1991. In 1996, Judge Somers travelled to the North of Ireland to presided over an unofficial independent public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Shanaghan. The testimonies heard during the inquiry, of constant RUC harassment prior to his death and RUC indifference in the immediate aftermath of the killing, moved the judge to tears.

``I have never seen a case where all the evidence points so loudly to one conclusion. Patrick Shanaghan was murdered by the British government, more specifically with the collusion of the police,'' he found. ``I would not hesitate to indict members of the RUC from the top to the bottom.''

Now the Shanaghan family, together with relatives of 12 other northern nationalists killed in disputed circumstances, are taking their cases to the European Court of Human Rights. The families include relatives of Gervaise McKerr, one of three unarmed IRA Volunteers killed by the RUC in 1984, relatives of eight IRA Volunteers and one civilian killed in an SAS ambush in Loughgall in 1987 and relatives of Pearse Jordan, an unarmed IRA Volunteer shot dead by the RUC in West Belfast in 1992.

The killing of Patrick Shanaghan differs slightly from the other cases before the Strasbourg court. While all were victims of state and pro state forces, British crown forces were directly responsible for the deaths of eleven of those killed; the issue for the Shanaghan family is one of crown force collusion with loyalist death squads.

Patrick Shanaghan (33), was shot dead by a lone gunman as he drove to work on the morning of 12 August 1991. Prior to the shooting Patrick, a member of Sinn Féin, had been targeted by the RUC for constant harassment.

In the five years preceding his death, Patrick was arrested and held for interrogation by the RUC on ten separate occasions. In all, Patrick spent 42 days in custody without charge.

The home of his elderly mother, with whom Patrick lived on the family farm, was raided and ransacked by the RUC 16 times.

In the months prior to the killing Patrick was told by the RUC that his name, photo montage and personal details had been ``lost'' from a British Army vehicle. ``Loyalists in Castlederg know you now and they will get you,'' Shanaghan was told by the RUC.

The circumstances preceding the killing fall into an established pattern which northern nationalists recognise as indicative of collusion. Harassment, death threats, missing files, increased crown force activity immediately before the killing and RUC indifference afterwards. These are the tell tale signs which first alerted nationalists to possible collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane in 1989 and which were repeated most recently in the murder of Rosemary Nelson in 1999.

And then there's the aftermath, the indifferent, often openly callous attitude of British crown forces at the scene. This is invariably followed by inadequate investigations, inquest delays and restrictions, lack of disclosure to the families of the victim, a reluctance to make arrests and the failure of the DPP to prosecute.

The inquest into Patrick Shanaghan's death was described by the family's solicitor, Frank Collins as ``a meaningless shambles''. He threatened to withdraw if further restrictions were placed on his questioning of witnesses. ``The coroner is bound by case law as to just how narrow the scope of an inquest was,'' Collins was told by the Counsel for the court.

In the Six Counties, unlike England and Wales, inquests are restricted to ``findings'' and cannot deliver a verdict. In what is a travesty of justice, a coroner's court can only establish the barest of details, the time and place of death. The cause of death is restricted to actual biological mechanics, such as loss of blood, gunshot wounds, etc.

A witness who approached Patrick Shanaghan's van after the shooting believed the injured man was still alive. If he was, the RUC made sure the dying man did not receive any medical assistance. No ambulance was called to the scene. A local doctor was denied access by the RUC. The force's Inspector Moore dismissed the medic; he had checked Shanaghan himself and he was dead.

``At no time did I have the opportunity to examine the body,'' said Dr William Stewart. ``I came to do my job. I wanted to do my best for my patient. I was stopped and I regret that.'' A parish priest, Fr. Maginn, was also denied access by the RUC.

The RUC later claimed that access had been denied in the interests of preserving the ``scene of crime'' ,yet beyond denying access to those who might have assisted the injured man, diligence was not something which characterised the RUC investigation of the murder.

According to an independent forensic scientist, the RUC failed to carry out basic procedures at the scene of crime. Darryl Manners, a former forensic scientist for the British Home Office, examined photographs taken by the RUC at the request of the Shanaghans' solicitor.

The scientist criticised the RUC's failure to take a plaster cast of a tyre impression at the crime scene. The photographs were inadequate, he said. Manners' evidence was restricted during the inquest hearing after the RUC sought a judicial review challenging the coroner's initial decision to allow evidence which questioned ``the quality and adequacy of the police investigation''. This was not relevant, the RUC claimed, and the court agreed.

In a written statement, one RUC officer said he had been called to the scene of the shooting at 8am. He later changed his evidence to between 8.20am and 8.30am. Patrick Shanaghan was shot at 8.20am. Curiously, the RUC sent three vehicles to the scene of a nonfatal car accident just 20 minutes before the shooting but only dispatched one vehicle to the shooting.

Speaking about the Strasbourg hearing, Patrick's sister described moments of despair. ``In the beginning, there was a period when as a family we felt completely helpless but thankfully we are getting through it with the help of friends and the support of the community. We know there is no way that we can get a fair hearing here. The European court offers us a last chance for justice.''

In a statement issued after the killing of her son, Mary Shanaghan described it as ``clear that the RUC do not want a proper investigation of the circumstances surrounding Patrick's murder. ``As in life,'' she said, ``Patrick was in death denied the most basis of human rights.''


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