British held liable for soldier attack
by Padraig MacDabhaid
The British MoD was found guilty of negligence at Belfast's High Court on
Wednesday 19 May, as Ardoyne republican Eddie Copeland was awarded £27,500
compensation for injuries he received when a British soldier opened fire on
mourners outside the home of deceased IRA Volunteer Thomas Begley in
Trooper Andrew Clarke fired 20 rounds from the top of a British army Land
Rover, hitting nearby houses and seriously wounding Copeland, who had to
receive emergency surgery. Copeland was hit in the back with a bullet which
severely damaged his bowel and resulted in him having to wear a colostomy
bag for eight months. The British MoD had claimed that it was not liable
for Clarke's actions because he was acting outside the course of his
This defence, Copeland explained, ``would have had major implications for
all court cases involving injury or death inflicted by military personnel
while in uniform and on duty''.
Responding to the British MoD's defence, Judge Shiel said: ``I consider that
as a matter of public policy, when the state sends out a soldier or police
officer armed with a lethal weapon and intentionally or otherwise he
injures a third party in circumstances which are not authorised and there
is no justification, the state should be liable''.
The judge also ruled that other soldiers who were in the Land Rover with
Trooper Clarke were negligent for failing to disarm him when he descended
into the vehicle and said ``I am going to get them when we go round next''.
Shiel said: ``They ought to have disarmed Clarke immediately and restrained
him. They were negligent in failing to do so.''
Judge Shiel, however, ruled that Eddie Copeland would not be awarded
exemplary damages. If exemplary damages were awarded it would, in reality,
be an admission that the British army should be punished for actions
carried out by its soldiers.
Copeland and his legal team are now looking at the decision to see if they
can appeal on the exemplary damages decision.
Following the verdict, Copeland said: ``I'm just glad that they have been
forced to take responsibility for Clarke's actions on that day as he set
out to murder everyone who was there''. It is believed there will be another
25 cases arising from the murder attempt on the mourners.