PSNI retract murder admission

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The family of a Catholic man shot dead by the RUC police has been re-traumatised after the force seemed to admit his killing was a murder - and then changed their minds.

Cattle dealer Michael Leonard died after being chased by the RUC between Pettigo and Belleek near the County Donegal border on May 17 1973.

At a 1973 inquest, an RUC inspector claimed that an RUC man who aimed a rifle at Leonard “accidentally snatched the trigger and discharged a round”, killing him.

Last week it emerged that Attorney General John Larkin believes his killing was not justified and that later attempts to blacken his name were “despicable”.

At the time of the killing, an entry in a British military log falsely claimed that Mr Leonard was an IRA member. A senior officer in a report also falsely claimed that “he was known son of an IRA man”.

The new information was discovered by Ciarán MacAirt of the charity Paper Trail and published last week in a booklet by Mr Leonard’s cousin, Fr Joe McVeigh.

The PSNI last week described the killing of Mr Michael Leonard as “murder”, which they subsequently confirmed, only to issue a fresh statement on Monday to recant the statement and apologise to the dead man’s family.

They said the description of the killing as a murder “was regrettably inaccurate as his case has not yet been reviewed or reinvestigated by our Legacy Investigation Branch.”

Mr MacAirt last night said the entire episode has reopened fresh wounds.

“This gross error of police reporting has done little except re-traumatise the family of Michael Leonard,” he said.

The family’s solicitor Pat Fahy also said it is “incorrect for police to say that this matter will form part of the Legacy Investigation Unit’s work”.

“The Attorney General, John Larkin, has referred the case to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for consideration of criminal proceedings.

“This will require the PSNI to investigate and report back to the PPS.”

The lawyer said this “must be a swift investigation, as the Attorney General has deferred his decision on the issue of the Leonard family’s request for a new inquest until the question of criminal action against the perpetrators has been answered”.

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