14 December 2000 Edition
Further insult for McBride family
BY FERN LANE
Folllowing the outcry that met a British Army Board's decision to reinstate to their regiment Scots Guards James Fisher and Mark Wright, convicted of murdering Belfast nationalist Peter McBride, the Ministry of Defence has released a report on the case in an attempt to justify their continued employment. Originally, the Army Board, which included British armed forces minister John Spellar, claimed that there were ``exceptional circumstances'' informing its decision but refused to elaborate on what these might be, citing ``confidentiality''.
The MoD's report, which was sent to Peter McBride's mother Jean, says that Fisher and Wright were ``young and relatively inexperienced'' at the time of the killing. ``This was their first tour of duty in Northern Ireland and they had only been there for four months.'' The report goes on to say that in September 1992, the ``security situation'' in the New Lodge area of Belfast was particularly ``tense'', but does not elaborate on why so young and inexperienced soldiers were sent into the area in the first place.
Scandalously, despite acknowledging that Fisher and Wright lied at their trial and put forward ``a version which they both knew to be untrue'', the report nevertheless attempts to continue with the fallacy that the men fired on Peter McBride because they believed he was carrying a coffee-jar bomb. It asserts that ``the threat of coffee-jar bombs at the time of the offences was very real: soldiers had been maimed and on occasion killed by this weapon. The coffee-jar bomb was a device which was very easy to conceal until the moment of throwing''.
The report also goes on to say that Fisher and Wright are ``utterly loyal'' to the army, ``very highly'' regarded by their commanding officer and that their conduct whilst in custody had been ``exemplary'' - all factors which contributed to the board's decision.
Commenting on the report, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said: ``The British Army has revised history to allow two killers to remain in its ranks in a clearly calculated insult to the McBride family and the nationalist people. These two men, convicted of murder, will now be rearmed and could be sent throughout the world to repeat their actions, safe in the knowledge that their superiors believe that their actions made them `exemplary soldiers'.''
In Belfast last week, the high court gave Jean McBride leave to appeal against the board's decision. ``They have rewritten the rule book to allow these two to remain as soldiers,'' she said. ``You only have to look at the decision to know that they have bent and twisted the truth to suit themselves.''
The following is a full transcript of the confidential Army Board decision on the ``special circumstances'' that led to their decision
18. The Board decided in the light of further discussion after the hearing and at subsequent meetings that the following factors taken together did amount to exceptional reasons:
Both Guardsmen were young and relatively inexperienced when the incident took place on 4 September 1992. Guardsman Fisher was born in 1968 and enlisted in December 1989. Guardsman Wright was born in 1973 and enlisted in 1990. Fisher had been in the Battalion for ten months and Wright for seven months. This was their first tour of duty in Northern Ireland and they and only been there for four months.
The general security situation was tense and particularly so in the New Lodge Area where the unit had suffered recent casualties including a fatality. At the team briefing on 4 September they had been advised that the situation was high risk and that there was an expectation that those associated with terrorist groups would be likely to be carrying personal weapons. Furthermore, the threat of coffee-jar bombs at the time of the offences was very real: soldiers had been maimed and, on occasion, killed by this weapon. The coffee-jar bomb was a device which was very easy to conceal until the moment of throwing. While this dangerous and volatile situation might have rightly led to heightened awareness, there was no evidence of individual or collective premeditation to commit a criminal offence.
The Army undertook a considerable amount of training to prepare soldiers for duty in these circumstances, and was acknowledged to be a world leader in this field. However, even with the comprehensive training provided, it could not prepare an individual for every eventuality.
Guardsman Wright had expressed genuine concern for Mr McBride's children when he gave evidence before the Board. Guardsman Fisher had expressed regret for Mr McBride's death in the statement he made in May 1995, and the Board was satisfied that it, too, was genuine.
Neither Guardsman had any previous criminal record, either civil or military. Furthermore, their conduct in custody after conviction had been exemplary.
The Board was convinced that there was absolutely no danger of repetition; on the contrary, the two Guardsmen appeared to have learned a bitter and lasting lesson.
Guardsmen Fisher and Wright had been utterly loyal to the Army throughout the eight years of the judicial process, their imprisonment, and subsequently the Army Board process. Both very clearly wished to continue to serve their county. Their present Commanding Officer had spoken very highly of them, not least regarding the part they had played in operations in Macedonia and Kosovo in 1999. In the course of those operations the Guardsmen had been placed in situations of tension and stress where it was vital that their personal conduct was of the highest standard, and they had acquitted themselves well. It was in the Board's view clearly exceptional - indeed, unprecedented - that any soldier should successfully resume his service; that he should then be formally retained in service; that he should then see the decision quashed; and that he should then continue serving for an extended period with the possibility of removal from the Army handing over his head pending a fresh decision. Their exemplary service since December 1998 should be seen against this background.
19. Having carefully balanced the reasons listed in paragraph 18 against the fact that the Guardsmen had been convicted of one of the most serious crimes known to the law, and also against:
the trial judge's finding, in particular that the Guardsmen:
had sufficient time to decide whether or not to fire and ,although both were aware that they had no justification for doing so, both discharged aimed shots at Mr McBride knowing he posed no threat to them;
[were not] in any panic situation or in any situation which called for split second reaction;
lied about critical elements of their version of events...and deliberately chose to put forward a version which they both knew to be untrue;
all the matters raised by and on behalf of Mrs McBride and others in the representations as to why the Guardsmen should not be allowed to remain in the Army,
the Board concluded that, taken together, the reasons listed in paragraph 18 made the Guardsmen's retention desirable.
20. The Board therefore rejected the applications to discharge 24776043 Guardsman Fisher and 25001649 Guardsman Wright M D and directed that they should be permitted to continue their Army service. In all the circumstances the Board concluded that it would be inappropriate for the Guardsmen to serve in Northern Ireland again without the Board's leave, and further directed accordingly.
Dated the 21st day of November 2000
John Spellar Esq MP
General Sir Mike Jackson KCB CBE DSO
Major General D L Judd