Relatives of two IRA Volunteers shot dead by the British Army’s SAS regiment in County Tyrone 30 years ago are to sue the British government after a new report found that they were shot in the back.
The review for the police Historical Enquiries Team (Het) contradicts accounts given by undercover soldiers who previously claimed that the IRA men were shot dead while pointing weapons at them.
Colm McGirr and Brian Campbell, both from the area, died in a field near Coalisland on the evening of December 4 1983. Testimony from the soldiers said they were monitoring a weapons cache hidden in the field when two men arrived and began removing the weapons.
The soldiers claimed that upon being challenged, “Colm McGirr turned and pointed a shotgun towards one of the soldiers who then fired several shots at him”.
But a forensic pathologist who reviewed the postmortem examinations concluded that Mr McGirr couldn’t have done so. He said that he did “not believe he would have turned far enough to threaten soldiers”, even if he was holding a weapon before he was shot dead.
“In my opinion therefore it is more likely that [Mr McGirr] received shots to his right side and back as he was facing into or towards the bush,” he said.
“I cannot exclude the possibility that the injury to the left upper back was inflicted as he lay on the ground.”
The SAS also claimed one of the squad only fired towards Brian Campbell because he was” holding an armalite rifle and had also turned and was facing them”
However, pathologist Richard Shepherd concluded that “no shots had struck Brian Campbell from the front”.
“I cannot exclude the possibility that the injury to the left upper back was inflicted as he lay on the ground,” he said.
The IRA men’s families have now called for a fresh inquest into their deaths. Lawyer Padraig O Muirigh, acting on behalf of the relatives, said they would also take legal action against the British government.
Colm McGirr’s brother Brian said the British army discovered the arms cache three days earlier on December 1, but the weapons were not removed or disabled.
“We have no doubt that a carefully planned ambush was set by under-cover British security forces that evening,” he said.
“Through the 30 years that have passed we have sought the truth of what happened. We were led to believe that the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team would make every effort to achieve the truth.
“As part of this, a second pathologist has confirmed that the shootings could not have happened as described by security forces. Both men, Colm and Brian, were shot in the back.”
Mr McGirr said the families have been informed that the HET investigation “is at an end and will proceed no further”.
“We lived with a charade of an inquest in early years with no evidence of any sort offered as to what occurred. The McGirr and Campbell families will continue to demand that a new inquest is held to fully investigate all that occurred on that evening.”
Reacting to the findings last night, Dungannon independent republican councillor Barry Monteith said he was “not surprised” by the pathologist’s review and accused the British government of operating a shoot-to-kill policy in the north.
In a bizarre intervention, loyalist campaigner Willie Frazer said relatives of the two IRA Volunteers should be “charged” for the bullets.
In a message posted on the internet, he said: “I say charge the family for the rounds the soldiers used on the tramps. Or at lest they need to say sorry to the innocent victims. If they like to make a check payable to William Frazer to show remorse for what the two scum did I will past it on to the innocent victims. And I think the SAS men should get a medal for the good work they did.”
Brian McGirr said he was deeply shocked by the remarks.
“We have suffered just as much as any other family, as much as the families of soldiers or policemen,” he said.
“My mother is 95 at the minute and she has suffered just as much as any other mother. To come out with stuff like that, it’s just unbelievable.”
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill described Frazer’s comments as “grotesquely insensitive”.