independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Police pair ‘part of previous controversial Troubles operations’

TWO officers involved in directing a police chase that resulted in the fatal shooting of a Co Down man also had roles in controversial security force killings during the Troubles, a coroner has been told.

The detective superintendent and inspector were in a PSNI command room overseeing a pursuit that ended with 21-year-old Neil McConville, from Bleary near Craigavon, being shot dead in April 2003.

Police were following the car driven by Mr McConville on the correct suspicion it was transporting a firearm.

At the culmination of the chase at Ballinderry Upper near Lisburn, an officer shot him three times amid fears he would drive over another officer he had already knocked down and injured in his efforts to get away.

Mr McConville was the first person killed by the police since the PSNI replaced the RUC in 2001 as part of peace process reforms.

While a subsequent investigation by then Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan found that the officer who fired the fatal shots had been justified, her probe criticised the detective superintendent's management of the operation, saying he had not taken steps to "minimise the possibility of recourse to lethal force".

The officer retired during the investigation.

Ms O'Loan also recorded that the inspector refused to be interviewed by investigators from her office.

A lawyer for Mr McConville's family today told coroner Suzanne Anderson at a preliminary inquest hearing into the death in Belfast that both officers had been involved in contentious lethal force RUC operations during the Troubles.

Karen Quinlivan QC said the detective superintendent and inspector both had roles in the incident that resulted in IRA man Pearse Jordan, 22, being shot dead shortly after the stolen car he was driving was rammed by police in west Belfast in 1992.

She said the inspector had also been in the RUC undercover unit that shot dead Catholic teenager Michael Tighe in one of the alleged so-called shoot-to-kill incidents in 1982.

Ms Quinlivan told the court the officer had fired "30 shots" into the hay shed in Co Armagh where the 19-year-old was killed. The building was a suspected IRA arms dump.

The lawyer claimed the officer had been involved in "at least one other" of the alleged shoot-to-kill incidents, and also during his career had his evidence criticised by a judge in a separate crown court case.

Arguing that all the past events were "potentially relevant" to the inquest into Mr McConville's death, Ms Quinlivan called for official documentation on the incidents to be disclosed to the family.

She also said the PSNI should examine the service records of all other officers who had roles on the night Mr McConville was shot.

The lawyer said people may have assumed that RUC officers involved in the "shoot-to-kill" episodes would not still be involved in PSNI operations more than 20 years on.

"But that seems to be the case," she said.

"The PSNI need to cross reference their witnesses to see if any other witnesses were involved in lethal force incidents."

Ms Anderson asked Ms Quinlivan to outline her argument in writing for her consideration.

In 2007, Ms O'Loan, now Baroness O'Loan, found that the shooting of Mr McConville had been justified.

She said after an initial collision with police vehicles, officers had ordered him to stop the engine and get out. However he reversed at speed and struck and injured one of the officers.

The prone officer was then in the vehicle's path and when Mr McConville changed out of reverse gear and again tried to drive off, a police colleague, fearing the officer's life was in danger, fired three times.

Mr McConville was fatally injured and later declared dead in Lagan Valley Hospital.

A passenger in the car sustained non-life threatening injuries in the incident.

The man was later jailed for possession of a sawn-off shot gun recovered from the vehicle.

Press Association

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