Irish Republican News · November 24, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Shoot-to-kill not covered by Human Rights Act - Lords

Britain's House of Lords has overturned a ruling by the Court of Appeal in Belfast that the British government breached the Human Rights Act by failing to carry out an investigation into the killings of three unarmed IRA Volunteers in 1982.

Gervaise McKerr, Eugene Toman and Sean Burns died in a hail of bullets when RUC police fired a total of 109 rounds at their car in Lurgan in November 1982.

The British government appealed the decision mandating an proper investigation into one of many controversial 'shoot to kill' ambushes and killings.

Yesterday it won that appeal in a ruling which has been described as ``a blow to all those who want the hundreds of unsolved killings during the Troubles to be thoroughly investigated''.

An initial police inquiry into the deaths, carried out by the RUC itself, was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in 2001 for its ``lack of independence and transparency'' and dismissed out of hand by the relatives of the victims.

Now it is feared the truth of the case may not be uncovered following the unanimous ruling yesterday by the five Law Lords, who dismissed test case proceedings launched by Gervaise McKerr's son.

Nine cases in all, including those brought by the families of Mr Toman and Mr Burns, were awaiting the outcome of the appeal.

Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights, now also part of the Human Rights Act, requires prompt and independent investigation into the taking of life by state agents.

The Law Lords agreed that the government's obligation to investigate did not apply to deaths that occurred before the Human Rights Act came into force in October 2000.

However, in agreeing, Lord Steyn added that he rejected the government's arguments that an adequate inquiry would be impossible because of the time lapse and that Mr McKerr lacked the status of a ``victim''.

He was unquestionably a victim, Lord Steyn said.

``After all, he is a son questioning why his father was killed by agents of the state.''

Sinn Féin last night reiterated its support for the McKerr family. Upper Bann assembly member John O'Dowd said: ``The British government needs to end its policy of concealment and needs to face up to the legacy left by the policy of state sanctioned and state supported murder.''

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