Brother of shot escapee takes legal action

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The brother of a County Tyrone man shot dead while trying to escape from Long Kesh internment camp almost 45 years ago has launched a legal action against the PSNI police and British Ministry of Defence.

24-year-old Hugh Gerard Coney was shot in the back by a British soldier as he and other internees tried to escape in November 1974.

Mr Coney was seized from his home near Coalisland in June 1973. He was among hundreds of nationalists held without charge at the former RAF base near Lisburn from 1971 to 1975, where they endured dire conditions including attacks by gas and riot squads.

On 16 October 1974, a plan was formulated by internees to tunnel out of the cage late at night, crawl through rolls of barbed wire and, at a distance from the sentry posts, scale the outer wire fence. The escapers would then head for rendezvous points where they would be met by fellow Volunteers and taken to safe houses in Belfast and other nationalist areas.

Unfortunately, one of the first squads to emerge from the tunnel was spotted by a patrol of British soldiers in a jeep. As the escapees climbed over a ditch on their way towards the outer perimeter fence, the soldiers opened fire without warning, fatally wounding IRA Volunteer Hugh Coney and injuring another of the escapees.

The soldiers refused to call a doctor or priest to attend to Coney and, according to the statements later made by the recaptured POWs, they foully abused his body as it lay in the ditch.

An inquest held in 1975 delivered an open verdict and his family had campaigned to have the case re-examined. In 2016 Attorney General John Larkin ordered a new inquest into his death.

A report by the Historical Enquiries Team said British soldiers involved in the shooting gave differing accounts of what happened. It also revealed that an RUC man had recommended that the soldier who fired the fatal shot should be charged with murder but he was not supported by his supervisors.

The director of public prosecutions later concluded that the soldier, whose identity is known, should not be prosecuted.

The dead man’s brother Jim has now launched legal action against the PSNI George Hamilton and British MoD. He recently revealed he was refused access to the first inquest.

“The first one (inquest) was a sham and I need to know what did happen,” he said. “We just want to find out the truth. It’s 42 years and it’s a long haul. If he had not been killed he would have grandchildren running around him, I think of those things at times.”

Eoin Murphy of O Muirigh Solicitors said “fresh witness evidence which has been provided, challenges the narrative advanced by the authorities for the past 44 years that there was a necessity to fire a fatal shot, or a shot at all”.

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