PSNI chief Simon Byrne has been urged to at least issue a public apology over the deaths of a boy and three men in Belfast after a finding by the Police Ombudsman of “significant operational and investigative failures”.
The first child to die in the conflict, nine-year-old Patrick Rooney, and Hugh McCabe, Samuel McLarnon and Michael Lynch, all in their twenties, were shot dead during disturbances in the Divis and Ardoyne areas in August 1969.
They died when RUC marksmen fired more than 20 shots from the roof of a local police station towards the Divis Flats. Vehicle-mounted machine guns were also deployed.
None of the RUC men linked with the murders are set to face trial due to a claimed lack of evidence.
Each of the killings were dealt with superficially in the 1972 Scarman report, but a new report by Ombudsman Marie Anderson has found that, even allowing for the tumultuous circumstances of the time, the RUC police (now PSNI) simply failed to seriously investigate any of the deaths.
With extreme understatement, the ombudsman’s report described the use of machine guns in an area of high-rise housing such as Divis as “flawed”. She said that there was a “lack of clear instruction” as to how machine guns could be used for “public order”.
She also noted that the method used by the RUC to re-allocate some of the guns involved prevented them being traced back to those who carried out the killings.
Patrick Rooney was shot in the head while sheltering with his family in a bedroom of their ground floor flat in the Divis complex. The fatal bullet was fired from a Browning machine gun mounted on an RUC Shorland vehicle.
Patrick Rooney’s brother Con described his brother as an “innocent child”.
“It is very disappointing that not one of the three gunners involved had the courage to admit firing into the flats, 13 of which were damaged by gunfire,” he said.
His lawyer Fearghál Shiels, of Madden and Finucane said the RUC treated the Rooney family “with contempt”.
Hugh McCabe was a British soldier who had been at home in Divis on leave when he was fatally wounded. He was shot by one of two RUC marksmen positioned on the roof of Hastings Street police station.
In Ardoyne, father-of-three Samuel McLarnon was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head while he stood by a window at his house on Herbert Street. He was shot as he pulled the blinds of his home.
Michael Lynch was shot in the Butler Street area of Ardoyne and died in hospital. He was shot by the RUC as he crossed a road close to his home. A forensic analysis found that he had been shot by a Sterling submachine gun.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said it “beggars belief” that there could not be evidence to prosecute the former RUC men involved.
He said they had “raked homes with gunfire, firing indiscriminately at civilians.”
He added: “These families are entitled to the truth and we will continue to stand in solidarity with them in their campaign.
“This action will make more and more people believe that they won’t get justice or equality of justice from this or any British government.”