Clonoe inquest opens
Clonoe inquest opens


The inquest into the killings of the Clonoe Martyrs – Vol Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Vol Patrick Vincent, Vol Peter Clancy and Vol Sean O Farrell, – finally opened this week, some 31 years after their deaths.

The four young men, all in their early 20s, were mowed down in a hail of gunfire delivered by an SAS unit of the British Army hidden behind a hedgerow on the evening of February 16, 1992.

Their assailants knew in advance that the four men, all IRA Volunteers, would meet at chapel carpark in the County Tyrone village after they had launched an attack on a fortified joint RUC/British Army barracks in the nearby town of Coalisland.

The barracks had been well prepared for the attack with personnel being reduced, and removed from positions of perceived vulnerability. The net result of the attack were bullet strikes on its exterior concrete structure.

On the first day of the inquest, it was revealed that all of the weapons in the possession of the IRA men were locked into safety mode when examined after the killings.

It was also revealed that there had been no attempt to effect arrests, and that there were no verbal warnings of any kind before the covert unit opened fire.

Relatives for Justice, who are supporting the families, said the IRA unit had presumably been preparing to use the carpark as a means of quickly dismantling and returning their weapons for transportation away from the scene, and thus posed no threat.

“This would have also presumably been known as part of the overall intelligence picture,” they said.

“Essentially, this was an ambush situation and one in which the risk to the covert unit was negligible. They were content to allow the attack to proceed and then kill those involved afterwards.”

Tests showed the lorry had been hit by at least 68 bullets out of several hundred fired from 11 assault rifles and a machine gun. In his opening statement, the counsel for coroner Justice Humphries said a particular focus of the inquest would be “whether the use of force was justified”.

Approximately 78 witness statements were read into the record. These ranged from civilians, emergency medics, RUC, and British army personnel involved in the aftermath of the killings.

However, documents from the SAS unit involved in the killings, including those who planned, controlled and had oversight of the operation, are still being withheld.

The court heard that because of the continuing delay in the provision of SAS documents, the scope of the inquest has still not yet been determined.

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