Irish Republican News · January 24, 2015
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Inquest frustrated by mystery witnesses


The failure of the British Ministry of Defence to track down three soldiers holding vital information about the killing of Crossmaglen man Harry Thornton is another example of its determination to deny families of state violence truth and justice, Sinn Fein has said.

Lawyers for the Ministry of Defence said they were unable to identify three of the soldiers who hold hold crucial information about the killing of Mr Thornton (pictured), who was shot in the head after his van backfired outside a police station in west Belfast in 1971.

Even though his long-awaited inquest is scheduled to start in October, key witnesses named only as B, D, and E have still not been identified or located by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), a court was told.

Coroner Jim Kitson told the preliminary hearing at Mays Chambers in Belfast: “It is surprising that the MoD have three soldiers present in a police station and do not know who they are.”

Mr Thornton, who was 28, was in a work van with a colleague when he was shot on the Springfield Road in Belfast.

Eyewitnesses had stated they had seen Mr Thornton being shot in the throat by an British army marksman leaning out of a window above the barracks.

His passenger was dragged from the vehicle and brought to the barracks where he was severely beaten before being released without charge a few hours later.

His death at the height of the conflict in August 1971 sparked serious rioting.

It is understood soldier B ran outside the station immediately after hearing the fatal shots; D was posted in a rooftop sangar; while soldier E was also inside the station but witnessed the immediate aftermath.

But lawyer Ken Boyd, representing the MoD, claimed: “We do not know who B, D and E are.”

A fourth witness as also not been traced and may live abroad, the court was told.

Sinn Fein’s MP Newry Armagh MP said the British government must be compelled to honour its obligations on dealing with the past.

“It has consistently denied truth and justice to relatives of victims of state violence,” he said.

“In recent times, we have witnessed families being denied an inquiry into the Ballymurphy Massacre and the inaction of the PSNI to investigate the actions of the Military Reaction Force.

“Families have called for a public inquiry into the deaths of 18 people at the hands of loyalists in Mid Ulster and into the PSNI refusal to co-operate with the Gerard Lawlor inquest.

“The British government continues to refuse to honour its commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane and documents have been destroyed relating to shoot-to-kill deaths just weeks before an inquest was due to begin.

“Now we have this failure to provide information at the inquest of Harry Thornton.

He said it was yet another example of cabinet ministers in London showing utter disregard for the families in favour of protecting their own interests.

“It also exposes once again the lie that the British state was not a key participant in the conflict,” he said.

“It is clear the British Government fears the truth. Families such as the Thornton family have waited long enough for truth and justice. This latest obstruction by the British government adds to their ordeal.”


Meanwhile, a long-running inquest into the murder of County Tyrone pensioner Roseanne Mallon has been held up by at least two weeks.

The latest adjournment was agreed after a lawyer representing the British Crown forces requested time to devise a response to a legal challenge over the PSNI police’s refusal to identify informers.

The court heard how lawyers for the family do not accept responses given by two PSNI witnesses who have declined to confirm or deny whether those accused of the murder were working as British state agents.

Kevin Rooney QC, representing the PSNI and British Army, said the repeated ‘neither confirm nor deny’ responses were in line with an “important policy”. Cryptically, he added: “We all know there are exceptions to it”.

Miss Mallon was shot dead when loyalist paramilitaries attacked her sister-in-law’s County Tyrone home in May 1994.

The spinster, who had arthritis, was wounded multiple times when UVF gunmen opened fire on the bungalow at the edge of Dungannon. The UVF said its notorious mid-Ulster brigade was responsible and was targeting two of Ms Mallon’s nephews.

But in the aftermath, British military spying equipment was found in a nearby field, trained on the house.

The covert camera was relaying footage to a British army unit posted in a nearby wood. The inquest has previously heard how tape recordings had been wiped.

No-one has ever been convicted of Ms Mallon’s killing although high-profile killer Billy Wright, who was murdered in 1997, and two other loyalists were arrested and questioned.

The inquest was halted in December 2013 when it emerged that the weapon had been linked to a number of other loyalist killings in the east Tyrone area.

Last week, a barrister for her family said the Czech-manufactured weapon had likely been brought to Ireland by Brian Nelson, a senior UDA figure who had been working for British intelligence.

In response, a former RUC Special Branchman, giving evidence from behind a curtain, denied he knew who had supplied the weapon. He said he “would not have been interested” in its origins. Asked why he was not interested, given that he worked in a weapons research centre, he said it was not his area of responsibility.

Jonathan Greer, a forensic scientist who re-examined the gun in 2013, also warned the gun may have been tampered with by Special Branch in a deliberate attempt to hinder the identification process.

Final submissions in the inquest were due to be heard next month but may now be delayed until March.

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