Members of the IRA unit shot dead in a British Army ambush at Loughgall had been under surveillance for weeks, it was confirmed this week.
A lawyer for the father of one of the eight republicans killed at Loughgall in County Armagh in 1987 said the new information is a major development in the case.
Relatives of the dead men and legal representatives point out that the disclosure proves that the men should have been arrested and their deaths prevented.
‘Elite’ SAS soldiers wiped out the IRA’s East Tyrone unit as it was preparing to mount an attack against Loughgall RUC barracks in May 1987. It has thought the orders for the massacre, the North’s most notorious ‘shoot-to-kill’ act of targeted assassination, came directly from the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was the IRA’s single largest loss of life during the conflict.
Declan Arthurs’ father, Patrick, is suing the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the ambush, as well as the PSNI (formerly RUC), who took part in the operation.
Partially censored documents have now been disclosed by the PSNI as part of his legal action. Mr Arthurs’s barrister said they revealed an SAS operation had been watching eight of those who ended up dying for a number of weeks prior to the ambush.
Mairead Kelly of the Loughgall Truth and Justice Campaign said: “It has long been suspected by the bereaved families of Loughgall that the SAS shoot-to-kill operation did not have to happen.
“This recent raft of discovery shows that the state authorities had sufficient information to effect arrests long in advance but instead undertook a premeditated shoot-to-kill strategy.”
Ms McKeegan, of KRW Law, said the new material from the PSNI “proves that the security services not only could have prevented the ambush but that the MoD have not been up-front in relation to their disclosure obligations in this case”.
She said that previous disclosure from the MoD made no reference to SAS surveillance of the IRA men in advance of the shootings.
Funding for outstanding inquests from the conflict, including the Loughgall massacre continue to be blocked by government officials despite a recent court ruling that former First Minister, DUP leader Arlene Foster, had illegally withheld the cash.
Ms McKeegan said the new evidence “further highlights the need for the fresh inquests and the need for the money to be released from the [British] government immediately so that all victims of the conflict can obtain the answers that they so greatly need and deserve.”