Republican News · Thursday 27 May 1999

[An Phoblacht]

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 October 1993.

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 employment.

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.

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