British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers has intervened to block a new inquest into the deaths of eight IRA Volunteers and a civilian shot dead by the SAS almost 30 years ago in a decision branded as “profoundly wrong” by Six-County Attorney General John Larkin.
It was confirmed to human rights group the Committee on the Administration of Justice that Villiers issued a certificate blocking a fresh inquest last month claiming it was “against the interests of national security”, with the British Attorney-General being assigned authority over the matter.
The eight IRA Volunteers were ambushed and killed by the SAS while on active service in Loughgall, County Armagh on May 8 1987. Civilian Anthony Hughes from Caledon in County Tyrone was also killed when he drove unknowingly into the ambush.
The British government ultimately apologised to the Hughes family and confirmed he was “wholly innocent of any wrongdoing”, but always denied that the eight Volunteers were victims of a pre-planned ‘shoot-to-kill’ massacre.
In their letter to the CAJ, Mr Larkin’s lawyer said: “The Attorney General wishes me to inform you that he considers the Secretary of State’s decision to be profoundly wrong in principle and is currently reflecting on the appropriate response to it.”
Relatives of those killed in Loughgall have spoken of their disappointment at the decision. Mairead Kelly, whose brother Patrick was one of the eight IRA men shot dead, said she wasn’t surprised by the move.
“They don’t have to provide proof, do we know that there is something there to prevent this going ahead,” she said. “The truth is going to be damaging or they would let it go ahead.”
Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Brian Gormally condemned the decision.
“There is a relentless campaign, led by the UK Government and supported by some elements in Northern Ireland, to suppress the truth about the activities of state agents during the conflict,” he said.
“The aim is to ensure impunity for any crimes and human rights violations committed by servants of the state, whether policemen, soldiers or secret agents. This is the latest stage in this epic cover-up, using the deliberately undefined concept of ‘national security’ to stifle a proper investigation.”
Attorney General John Larkin had been considering the request for a new inquest for almost two years after the European Court of Human Rights previously found that there had been no proper investigation of the deaths.
Mr Gormally said his organisation will challenge the move. “There is a relentless campaign, led by the UK Government and supported by some elements in Northern Ireland, to suppress the truth about the activities of state agents during the conflict,” he said.
“The aim is to ensure impunity for any crimes and human rights violations committed by servants of the state, whether policemen, soldiers or secret agents. This is the latest stage in this epic cover-up, using the deliberately undefined concept of ‘national security’ to stifle a proper investigation.
He said his organisation “don’t know” why the Loughgall case has been singled out for the ‘national security’ veto. “Is it because the SAS were involved, or did a UK Minister give the green light for the ambush? The point is, we don’t know and we won’t know if the UK Government has anything to do with it.
“This situation is not just an assault on the right to truth and transparency in a democratic society, but the lack of a proper investigation is a continuing human rights violation. We will contest this decision by all available means.”
Sinn Fein MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew accused authorities of “denying truth and justice to the families of those killed in the Loughgall massacre” and said she agreed with Larkin’s description of the intervention as ‘profoundly wrong.’
“This is yet another example of the British government denying families the opportunity to get to the truth about the deaths of their loved ones,” she said.
“Once again this exposes the lie that the British government was not a protagonist in the conflict. The British government is denying the families of those killed at Loughgall their basic human rights by blocking access to the truth.”