Coagh ambush inquest opens

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A British army shoot-to-kill in which three IRA Volunteers were shot dead was set up after information was passed to Special Branch police, an inquest has heard.

East Tyrone IRA Volunteers Tony Doris, Pete Ryan, and Lawrence McNally (pictured, left to right) were killed in the village of Coagh in June 1991 by a specialised British Army ambush unit. Vol. Doris was a cousin of Sinn Féin First Minister-designate Michelle O’Neill.

The killings took place as secret talks were taking place between Sinn Féin and MI5 to end the conflict. The well-organised East Tyrone unit of the IRA was seen as an obstacle to the peace process.

An inquest into the deaths of the three men opened in Banbridge last week, more than 31 years after they were killed. Counsel for the coroner, Brett Lockhart, spoke about events leading up to the ambush.

The inquest was told that four members of a “specialist military unit”, to mean the SAS, were positioned in a Bedford lorry “which had been adapted to conceal the soldiers. Other soldiers were strategically positioned at various locations near the lorry”.

The coroner was told that a car with the three IRA men arrived in the area. The stolen car had been tracked to its destination but no attempt was made to arrest the three, who were suspected to be planning an attack. Instead, the soldiers hidden in the Bedford lorry opened fire on the car. It attempted to drive off, but crashed into a nearby parked vehicle.

Two of the IRA Volunteers then climbed from the vehicle but were fired on by other British soldiers hiding in the area. Both vehicles burst into flames and were burnt out. The court was told the three victims were “burnt beyond recognition” and later identified only by dental records.

The inquest is expected to last six weeks.

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