New evidence has revealed that the British Army was fully aware that a Catholic civilian murdered by the RUC was fired at three times, despite claims that only a single round was accidentally discharged.
Michael Leonard, an innocent 24-year-old, was shot after the RUC drove down his vehicle close to the Fermanagh and Donegal border in May 1973.
Records have revealed that the British army’s director of operations in the north, General Officer Commanding Frank King, was made aware within hours that three bullets were fired at the young cattle dealer.
At the time, the RUC claimed the victim, who was a disqualified driver, had failed to stop when he got into a car after leaving a shop and that only a single shot was later fired during a chase.
Evidence uncovered by research charity Paper Trail contradicts the single-shot claim. It confirms that the British army at the highest level was made aware that three shots were discharged, including a final direct shot believed to have claimed the young man’s life.
A briefing paper obtained by Paper Trail via a Freedom of Information Request reveals that senior military officials knew the background to the killing a day later.
One entry suggests that as the victim drove off “the RUC fired 2 shots at his car and, in the subsequent chase, the man appeared to draw his weapon so the RUC fired again and fatally wounded him”.
Another insertion confirms “(Two) rounds were fired at the car.
“Chase was given in a Land Rover and a further shot fired, hitting Leonard, who later died of his injuries.”
It has previously been reported that an entry in a military log falsely claimed that Mr. Leonard, who was unarmed, was a member of the IRA.
None of the three officers involved appeared at the inquest, which returned a finding of misadventure.
Mr. Leonard’s brother, John Leonard, believes the new evidence is important.
“This is further damning proof that the British armed forces killed Michael and then covered it up,” he said.
Mr. Leonard’s cousin, campaigning priest Fr. Joe McVeigh, said plans by the British government to close down legacy investigations will deny his family justice.
“Britain’s proposed Legacy Bill will deny Michael’s family equal access to justice whilst protecting his RUC killer,” he said.
“The Irish government must fight this travesty in Europe if Britain tries to block families like ours.”
Ciarán MacAirt of Paper Trail said: “It is now up to the Irish government to stand up for the basic human rights of one of its citizens (killed) by a foreign police force”.
The family’s lawyer, Adrian O’Kane, urged the Attorney General to rule on a new inquest before new British legislation blocks it.
“The decision to rule upon a fresh inquest rests with the Attorney General, and in view of the Legacy Bill guillotine, a decision is needed now,” he said.