LOUGHGALL. BELFAST TELEGRAPH: “GLI UOMINI DELL’IRA SPARARONO PER PRIMI”
Shot IRA unit ‘fired first at SAS’ (Belfast Telegraph)
An eight-man IRA unit wiped out by SAS gunmen after they launched a bomb attack on a police station nearly 25 years ago opened fire first on the undercover soldiers, it has been claimed.
A report of an investigation into the shootings by the historical enquiries team (HET), which was set up to investigate unsolved killings in Northern Ireland, is due to be handed over to relatives of the Provisionals who died, as well as the family of an innocent civilian caught up in the gunfire outside Loughgall RUC station, Co Armagh, in May 1987.
It was always believed that SAS soldiers hiding in nearby fields fired the first shots as the IRA men retreated after bombing the station using a hijacked digger to carry the bomb and smash through a perimeter fence.
But the Belfast Telegraph has revealed that the HET report will claim that the IRA men could not have been safely arrested and the soldiers were within their rights to open fire.
A spokesman for the HET said she could not comment on the report because it was working with the families on a confidential basis.
She said: “It (the HET) does not discuss the contents or progress of a review with anyone except families concerned or their representatives.”
The eight men belonged to the East Tyrone brigade, one of the most feared IRA units, which was heavily involved in a series of attacks on police and soldiers at the time, especially in areas close to the border with the Irish Republic.
A ninth man, Anthony Hughes, an innocent passer-by who was driving home at the time, was also killed.
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said that the eight IRA men deserved to die – a claim which infuriated a Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly whose wife’s brother, Patrick Kelly, 30, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, was among the eight shot dead by the soldiers.
Barry McElduff said: “The men killed at Loughgall were victims of a British Government policy of shoot-to-kill. Nobody believes that the British Army unit were sent into Loughgall that evening to arrest anybody.”
IRA ‘fired first shot’ in Loughgall (UTV)
A report into one of the most controversial cases of the Troubles says the IRA fired the first shot during a gun battle with the SAS at the RUC police station in Loughgall in 1987.
The Historical Enquiries Team has concluded that the IRA unit was to blame for shooting first before being wiped out by the SAS, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
The newspaper is reporting on Friday that the investigation team has said those involved in the gun attack could not have been arrested safely and the SAS “were within their rights to open fire”.
Victims’ families have always claimed that the IRA men were targeted in a ‘shoot-to-kill’ operation.
Eight IRA men and one innocent civilian were killed in the attack in May 1987.
Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff said: “The men killed at Loughgall were victims of a British Government policy of shoot-to-kill.
« Nobody believes that the British Army unit was sent into Loughgall that evening to arrest anybody. »
Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff
“They were sent there to kill the IRA unit and that is what they did. If the HET try and put forward a different theory it will say more about that groups credibility than anything else.”
The HET report is expected to be released next month.
The police unit, set up to investigate murders during the Troubles, has refused to comment on the matter.
The Belfast Telegraph’s Political Editor Liam Clarke, who wrote the story, said he is confident his sources have seen the report.
“I can’t disclose my sources because it was confidential but I am confident that the people I spoke to knew what was in the report,” he told UTV.
“I am sure this won’t end the dispute – there will be arguments that there should have been a cordon around the area and so on but I am confident that those are the findings of the report.”
However DUP MLA William Irwin said it will have to be accepted.
« The report completely debunks the republican myths which have been propagated to cover up the truth about what happened that day. »
DUP MLA William Irwin
“There are some within Northern Ireland who accept any report alleging wrongdoing by the Police, Army or other agencies of the State without question,” Mr Irwin said.
“In circumstances now where a report has demonstrated that members of the Armed Forces acted legitimately they must now accept the veracity of this too.”
Human rights groups the Committee on the Administration of Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre have raised serious concerns as to how potentially inaccurate information, allegedly reflecting findings of an unpublished report by the HET into the Loughgall killings, has been published in the media, without families being informed.
CAJ acted on behalf of the families when this case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and, together with the PFC, have continued to assist the families since then.
Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ said: “We have serious questions to ask as to whether and why someone from within the security establishment has made claims as to the content of the yet unpublished report into the killings at Loughgall.
“The families do not yet know what is actually contained within this report or whether it represents a full independent investigation. However, we are conscious of the risk that the first headline usually sticks in the mind of the public, regardless of what full and accurate picture subsequently emerges. The fact that the families of the deceased learned of these claims in today’s media, is of great concern to us.”