Vindication for the Coney family
Vindication for the Coney family


An inquest jury has found that Hugh Gerard Coney was given no verbal warning before being shot in the back while trying to escape from Long Kesh almost 50 years ago.

The family of the former IRA internee will press ahead with legal action against the British Ministry of Defence after the four-week inquest into his death came to an end on Wednesday when the jury returned its findings.

The 24-year-old, from Clonoe, near Coalisland in Co Tyrone, was shot in the back by a British soldier as he and other internees tried to escape in November 1974.

Mr Coney, who was known as Gerard by his family, was one of around 32 internees who tried to escape through a tunnel from the Co Antrim internment camp.

The breakout attempt took place just weeks after republican prisoners had burnt down much of the camp amid rising tensions.

An original inquest held in 1975 returned an open verdict. A new one was ordered by former Attorney General John Larkin in 2016 and opened in Banbridge last February.

It re-commenced in Newry earlier this year. Evidence was heard from former internees, British soldiers, police officers, prison staff and forensic experts.

The family’s solicitor Padraig Ó Muirigh, said the Coney family welcome the findings.

Mr Ó Muirigh said the jury concluded unanimously that Mr Coney was unarmed when he was shot in the back and no verbal waring was given before the fatal round was fired.

“The Coney family would particularly like to thank those former internees, who were on the escape with Mr Coney for their assistance to the Coroner during the inquest.

“The Coney family have commenced a civil action against the Ministry of Defence and will continue with these proceedings in light of today’s findings.”

Mark Thompson, from Relatives for Justice, said “today the world knows” Mr Coney was unarmed and shot in the back.

“In real terms the killing of Hugh Coney was unjustified and unjustifiable,” he said.

Mr Coney’s inquest was one of dozens that must be at their findings stage by May 1 or they will be halted under the British government’s controversial Legacy Act.

Sinn Féin’s Linda Dillon said the findings were a “vindication” for Mr Coney’s family.

“The British government’s cynical and cruel Legacy Act will close down inquests such as Gerard’s in just a matter of weeks,” she said.

“This shameful act is a flagrant breach of international human rights law and it should be scrapped.”

The soldier beleived to have fired the fatal shot refused to engage with the inquest and was not compelled to give evidence.

Known as ‘Red Hugh’ to his friends and the wider community due to his hair colour, Mr Coney was a skilled Gaelic football player and later turned his talents to snooker, becoming the youth champion in the Six Counties and once beat world snooker champion Dennis Taylor.

Mr Coney’s sister, Colette, took the stand on the last day of the inquest to read an impact statement to the jury. As she was describing his late brother and explaining the ‘profound’ impact his loss left on the family, words failed her and she broke down.

It was clear that, for his surviving relatives, as for many others, the pain and trauma are not a matter of the past but very much the present.

“Only for the introduction of the illegal internment, Gerard would have gone on to bigger things in snooker,” the statement read.

“Gerard’s sudden death not only ended his future life and ambitions, but it has also had a profound indescribable impact on the lives of his parents and siblings.”

Gerard’s parents never got over “the pain” of their son’s death. Gerard cared for his brother Frank, who suffered from a degenerative muscular condition and who died in 1979.

The statement read, “Frank missed Gerard terribly and, given his already severely deteriorating condition, he found it extremely difficult to adjust to life without his brother, who had been a source of such great physical and emotional support to him.”

The Coney family expressed that they still find it challenging to put into words the mental and emotional impact the loss of their loved one has had on each of them and their family unit. “There is so much that we didn’t get to do with Gerard and so much that we never got to say. There is a huge hole in the heart of our family, and we will treasure Gerard’s memory forever.”

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