Fresh inquests into the murders of two West Belfast men by the British Army’s shadowy Military Reaction Force have been ordered by the Attorney General.
The development comes after new evidence was gathered from a BBC Panorama programme about the MRF which was broadcast last year.
Patrick McVeigh, a 44-year-old father-of-six, was shot dead by the unit whilst talking to friends at an unofficial checkpoint at Riverdale on May 13, 1972.
Daniel Rooney was killed as he chatted to a friend at St James’ Crescent on September 27, 1972. The 18-year-old was smeared by the army in the weeks months and years after his death, despite his family and friends knowing he was innocent.
The MRF was the subject of a Panorama documentary broadcast late last year. Panorama interviewed former members of the unit who confirmed they shot unarmed innocent civilians on the streets of West Belfast. The undercover team said they drove through the estates of this district taking shots at “suspected” IRA combatants, many of whom were innocent civilians. The families of those killed have always maintained their loved ones’ innocence and that the unit behind the murders was running amok – indeed, an MoD review later concluded it had “no provision for detailed command and control”.
In a letter to Daniel Rooney’s family solicitor, Pádraig Ó Muirigh, Attorney General John Larkin, directing a new inquest into the killing, said the Panorama episode “may well constitute new evidence or information”. In relation to the Patrick McVeigh case, he said in a letter: “I have examined the Panorama programme and consider that it may disclose such new evidence or information”.
Patrick’s daughter Patricia told the Andersonstown News she was quietly hopeful about the new development.
“Our father Patrick McVeigh was a civilian who was killed by the undercover, plainclothed soldiers of the MRF unit of the British Army on 13th of May 1972, who drove around in unmarked cars,” she said. “This is an undisputed fact.
“Our goal for the truth of why these plainclothed soldiers shot indiscriminately at innocent civilians and killed our father has been tireless and unrelenting for over 40 years.
“With the dedicated help of many people over the years, namely our legal team led by Pádraig Ó Muirigh, and also John Ware and his associates involved in the Panorama programme, which indeed highlighted the actions of the secretive MRF unit in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, we hope to achieve our aim of gaining the truth about the night of the 12th and 13th of May 1972. In view of all this, and other material furnished to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, he has decreed that a new inquest would hopefully establish more clearly the circumstances and events which led to our father losing his life that night, and that this would be in the public interest.”
Patricia says she hopes those who were involved in her father’s killing will be brought before the courts to face justice.
“We would expect that the two carloads of undercover soldiers, six in number, who drove around that night picking out vulnerable targets, then going back and shooting indiscriminately at them, will all be called or subpoenaed to attend the Coroner’s Court,” she said. “We are aware that the driver of the unmarked MRF car has recently died. However, the other five plainclothed soldiers of this MRF unit will hopefully be called on, and this should also include their Commanding Officers and the RMP [Royal Military Police] officers who interviewed and took statements from the perpetrators of these crimes.
“In the months that followed, other shooting incidents occurred as a result of the same covert unit of MRF soldiers, who operated clandestinely undercover in Belfast, driving around Belfast in plain clothes posing as local men. In time, hopefully the families of other victims of MRF activities will also see the perpetrators of these crimes standing in the Coroner’s Court, where eventually the truth will be told and their loved ones’ names cleared.
“This inquest will clearly not just benefit our family, but will hopefully pave the way for others who also seek truth and justice in similar circumstances, namely those families who have lost loved ones, those injured and those still suffering from the actions of the MRF.”
Pádraig Ó Muirigh, acting for both families, said the soldiers involved are compelled to give witness statements. The Rooney and McVeigh families welcome the decision of the Attorney General to direct fresh inquests into the death of their loved ones at the hands of the MRF,” he said. “A properly convened inquest will shed further light in relation to the role and the actions of this British Army undercover unit.
“The fresh inquests must now comply with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights which means that they will be considerably different creatures than their predecessors. In addition, British soldiers involved in the killings are now compellable witnesses – the House of Lords has made it clear that the Coroner dealing with an inquest now has a generous discretion in relation to the remit of an inquest and that ‘the purpose of an inquest is to investigate fully and explore publicly the facts pertaining to a death occurring in suspicious, unnatural or violent circumstances, or where the deceased was in the custody of the state, with the help of a jury in some of the most serious classes of cases.’
“A jury will now be in a position to reach ‘findings’ as per the judgment of Lord Bingham wherein he stated ‘nothing in the 1959 (Coroner’s) Act or the 1963 Rules prevents a jury finding facts directly relevant to the cause of death which may point very strongly towards a conclusion that criminal liability exists or does not exist.’”