After 8 weeks of evidence, and 3 days of deliberation, a Belfast jury has delivered their verdict in the inquest into the deaths of Provisional IRA members Dessie Grew and Martin McCaughey in County Armagh in 1990. The Detail’s Barry McCaffrey recounts some of the legal arguments from the inquest before reporting the verdict.
Shortly after 2pm the foreman of the jury, identified only as C13, told coroner Brian Sherrard that they had reached agreement on the facts of the killings.
In a devastating blow to the dead men’s families, who’d sat through eight weeks of evidence, the jury ruled that the IRA men’s own actions had contributed to their deaths and that the SAS had used “reasonable force” during the events that led to the fatal shootings.
“Mr Grew and Mr McCaughey put their lives in danger by being in the area of the sheds in the vicinity of a stolen car, which was expected to be used in terrorist activity,” the verdict stated.
“They were both armed with guns, wearing gloves and balaclavas and were approaching soldiers who believed that their lives were in immediate danger.”
Earlier in the case Ms Quinlivan had said the Grew and McCaughey families accepted that their loved ones had been on IRA ‘active service’ and had therefore left themselves liable to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.
However the families’ barrister argued that the shooting of the two men as they lay dying on the ground had been a deliberate SAS coup-de-gras and was evidence of a state sanctioned summary execution.
Despite these claims the jury ruled that soldier ‘D’ had been justified in shooting Dessie Grew as he lay dying.
“Soldier ‘D’ fired two shots at close quarters into Mr Grew.
“Soldier ‘D’ perceived that Mr Grew was a threat when he opened the door of the mushroom sheds and Mr Grew emitted a noise and he thought Mr Grew moved towards his gun.”
Dismissing claims that forensic evidence appeared to show that soldier ‘D’ had also then gone on to shot Martin McCaughey in the head as he lay on the ground, it said:
“Mr McCaughey was on or close to the ground when he sustained the fatal wound.
“Mr McCaughey received other identified entry wounds and a further wound which is behind the left ear.
“On the balance of probability it is not possible to be definitive about the wound behind Mr McCaughey’s left ear.”
The jury said it could not agree on whether the SAS had attempted to arrest the IRA men.
Despite this they ruled that the British army’s elite unit had still been justified in opening fire on the IRA men once they felt that their secret hiding positions had been ’compromised’.
“We cannot be unanimous on the balance of probabilities whether or not there was an opportunity to attempt arrest in accordance with the Yellow Card (British Army rules on soldiers opening fire) prior to the soldiers feeling compromised.
“However, once the soldiers felt compromised we agree that there was no other reasonable course of action.”
Dismissing claims that forensic evidence appeared to show the IRA men had been shot while standing at the door of the mushroom sheds and had not in fact approached the SAS position, the verdict stated:
“Soldier ’A’ opened fire in the belief that their position had been compromised and their lives were in danger.
“Soldier ’A’ believed that Mr Grew and Mr McCaughey, who were armed with guns, wearing gloves and balaclavas, had moved towards their position.
“Soldiers B, C and D followed A’s initial shot and continued firing until they believed the threat was neutralised. Given these circumstances we believe the soldiers used reasonable force.”
Adds A day after the inquest jury verdict, Sinn Féin MLA Francie Molloy gives the party’s response.
“This inquest verdict diminishes both the justice system and public confidence in the defence of human rights. The families of those killed have the same rights as every other bereaved family. The outcome of this inquest will only serve to reinforce the view that Irish republicans and their families are not treated equally to others.
“One irrefutable fact was established. The British State used lethal force to execute two Irish citizens in their own country. To describe this as reasonable is an outrage
“Dessie Grew and Martin McCaughey were courageous IRA Volunteers. It is clear from the evidence produced at the inquest that they were executed in a shoot-to-kill operation by the British State.
“Sinn Féin respect the memory of Dessie and Martin and hundreds of other volunteers who made the ultimate sacrifice during the war.
So much for being “open to using new language, and consider making new compromises“.