A British soldier who fired a plastic bullet which partially blinded a Catholic schoolboy in 1997 used “reasonable force”, a High Court judge has ruled.
Justice McAlinden rejected a compensation claim after accepting a claim by the British soldier that he had feared for his safety.
In April 1997, Gavin McKenna, then aged 13, sustained a permanent eye injury when struck by the plastic bullet in Lurgan, County Armagh at almost point blank range.
Gavin and several other boys had been collecting wood for a bonfire when a passing British Army patrol opened fire. In contravention of regulations governing the use of the weapon, the soldier fired a shot at the boy’s head. He was seen to laugh as the boy was taken to hospital.
His family had called for a charge of attempted murder to be brought against the British soldier responsible. Eyewitnesses agreed that the incident was unprovoked.
The British military admitted the bullet had been fired and that the corporal involved typically “pushed the envelope a bit”. However, it claimed missiles had been thrown at their six-man Royal Irish Regiment foot patrol.
Dismissing his compensation claim, the judge said Mr McKenna’s membership of Republican Sinn Féin meant he had a “long-standing animus” towards the British military.
Mr McKenna was not the intended target nor part of a crowd, but had been struck while still crouching or hunkering down, he concluded.
“I am satisfied that the manner in which the baton gun was discharged constituted the use of force which was reasonable,” he said.
Dismissing the compensation claim, he acknowledged it was “very unfortunate” Mr McKenna had been seriously injured.
However, he maintained: “Be that as it may, I have found that the circumstances in which (the lance corporal) fired the baton gun and the manner in which he fired the baton gun were entirely justified on the night in question”.