Northern Ireland

Soldier 'didn't say how unit in Clonoe was attacked'

Belfast High Court
Image caption The case is being heard at Belfast High Court

A soldier involved in an operation in which four IRA men were shot dead did not tell police how he thought his unit had been attacked, a court has heard.

The witness, identified as Soldier A, was giving evidence in a case brought by a man shot and wounded at the scene.

Aidan McKeever is suing the MoD for assault and battery and what he claims was unreasonable force during the operation in Clonoe, County Tyrone.

Four IRA men were shot dead after attacking Coalisland police station.

Soldiers opened fire on them as they dumped a lorry used in the machine-gun attack in February 1992.

Mr McKeever, who was unarmed and not among those who carried out the attack, said he was shot in the chest as he tried to get out of his car in the area.

He was later convicted along with two other men of aiding and assisting offenders in relation to the attack and given a suspended sentence.

Soldier A told the hearing that he saw a flash and believed gunmen in the lorry had started firing at his unit.

The court was told that another member of the unit, Soldier F, had then opened fire.

'Serious threat'

In a statement Soldier A also expressed his view that a gunman in the back of the lorry represented a serious threat to the lives of him and his colleagues.

During cross-examination by counsel for Mr McKeever, he was unable to explain why no reference was made to police of why he believed his unit was under attack.

"I can't answer that question here. I don't know," he said.

Mr Justice Treacy, who is hearing the case, pointed out that his evidence was of first seeing a flash from the truck.

"The description and statement you made at the time doesn't make any reference at all to what you told me (in court) yesterday was the reason for opening fire," the judge said.

"You were being formally interviewed by police under caution here. At that stage police were no doubt trying to investigate whether any offence had been committed by the soldiers firing weapons.

"What could be more relevant than the fact you initiated gunfire as a result of hearing the discharge of weapons and seeing a flash?"

The soldier replied that he did not know why it was not mentioned at the time.

"Bearing in mind a tremendous amount had happened and a lot was going through my mind," he said.

"If I didn't mention the flash I can't explain."

Mr McKeever's barrister further pressed him, saying: "Soldier A, I suggest to you that if you thought for whatever reason shots were being fired at you from the lorry and that was your motivation... for you firing at the lorry that's not something you could forget."

He also challenged the decision to target the man holding a heavy machine gun in the back of the lorry, claiming it was not pointed in the direction of the army unit.

Soldier A responded: "As I recall the gun was swung round. Whether that was a deliberate act I don't know but the gun was swung round... towards our direction.

"That wasn't just the (only) threat. There were three or four other men in the back of that truck."

The case continues.

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