A fresh hearing has been directed into the British Army killing of an innocent Derry man in May 1973 after the inconclusive findings of his original inquest were overturned.
A High Court judge ruled that there were legal flaws in the ‘findings of fact’ in relation to the fatal head inquries Thomas Friel suffered when he was struck by a rubber bullet fired by a soldier.
The 21-year-old Derry man died four days after he sustained a serious head injury amid disturbances in the Creggan area of the city. He was not involved in any rioting at the time.
In December 2021, the coroner who oversaw a second inquest admitted that he had been hit with a rubber bullet, but claimed he may also have been hit by a missile and may then have cracked his head on the ground.
Pathologists accepted that a brain injury was the cause of death, but the court heard there was uncertainty about how it occurred.
The former British soldier who fired the rubber bullet on the day of the rioting told the inquest his patrol had come under attack.
Referred to only as ‘Soldier B’, he said that he fired at a ‘central figure’ but did not see it hit him.
Mr Friel’s family mounted a judicial review challenge to the inquest verdict, claiming the findings of fact were not supported by evidence.
Ruling on the case, Justice Rooney noted a failure to make any attempt to identify any specific object which supposedly hit Mr Friel.
He also found that the questioning of ‘Soldier B’ had been illegally restricted at the 2021 inquest.
The judge stated: “The failure to follow the law and the correct procedure for claiming the privilege against self-incrimination during an inquest hearing has undermined the questioning and the oral testimony of Soldier B.”
Quashing the verdict of the previous inquest, he ordered that a fresh one be heard before a different coroner.