Police knew O'Neill was unarmed
BY FERN LANE
On the opening day of the inquest into the killing of Volunteer Diarmuid O'Neill, the police officer in charge of the operation, Detective Chief Superintendent John Bunn, admitted to Michael Mansfield QC that he had known for some time before the night of the shooting that there were no arms or bomb making equipment contained in the flat where Diarmuid, together with Brian McHugh and Pat Kelly, were sleeping. A few days before the raid, on 23 September 1996, officers had covertly broken into the flat and searched it thoroughly, planting surveillance equipment at the same time. Bunn insisted that there was no prior intention to kill anyone on the part of the police, although he did not explain why, after having been shot, Diarmuid was deliberately denied critical medical attention, nor did he explain why the police lied to the press about the events.
In his opening statement on Monday, 31 January, West London Coroner John Burton told the inquest jury that ``it is no secret at all that part of the operation went wrong. The intention was to try and take people by surprise in the middle of the night. The police wanted to get in with a duplicate key without making a noise, but the key didn't work. They then tried to break the lock using a battering ram. that went straight through the door. Next, tear gas is fired into the room and shots are fired. It was chaotic.'' He also told the jury that many police officers were overcome with the effects of the CS gas.
Dr Burton's comments, however, are contradicted by the events audible on the surveillance tape planted by police officers. On the tape, a CS gas cannister is fired through the window before police begin to try and break in the door.
Detective Superintendent Bunn also told the court that although the original plan had been to arrest the IRA active service unit at their North London storage facility, some members of the surveillance teams - which involved up to 400 officers - were, in the days before the raid, ``beginning to get edgy'', and so he took the decision to mount a raid on the flat in Hammersmith. He denied that, at a briefing immediately before the raid, he had deliberately tried to heighten the aggression of the officers involved by showing them photographs of the London Docklands taken the day after the Canary Wharf bomb.
The inquest continues.