Northern Ireland

NI DPP asks police to probe undercover Army unit

Barra McGrory
Image caption Barra McGrory said it was possible "criminal offences may have been committed"

Northern Ireland's director of public prosecutions has asked the police to investigate an Army unit that, it is claimed, killed unarmed civilians.

It follows claims by soldiers in a BBC Panorama documentary that they shot unarmed civilians during the 1970s.

The men said the unit, the Military Reaction Force (MRF), was tasked with "hunting down" IRA members in Belfast.

Barra McGrory said he had made the request "on the grounds that criminal offences may have been committed".

Three former MRF soldiers, who were speaking publicly for the first time, told Panorama that on some occasions they opened fire on targets in the streets of Belfast without actually seeing the person they shot holding a weapon.

Life saver

"If they needed shooting, they'd be shot," one of the soldiers told the programme.

They also said they believed they were combating terrorism and claimed the MRF unit had saved many lives.

Image caption The soldiers appeared on Panorama on condition their identities were disguised

The Ministry of Defence said admissions by soldiers that they sometimes operated beyond the law would be referred to the police.

Commenting on his decision to ask Northern Ireland's Chief Constable Matt Baggott to investigate, Mr McGrory said: "I viewed with great concern the Panorama broadcast last evening documenting the activities of the MRF.

"Former members of this unit appear to have claimed on camera that they considered themselves to have been authorised to operate outside the law of Northern Ireland. This raises the clear possibility, if not probability, that serious criminal offences were committed.

"Accordingly, I have asked the chief constable to initiate an investigation into the activities of this unit, to include the authority upon which the unit and its commanders acted".

Mr McGrory's request for Mr Baggott to begin a police investigation follows calls for such action to be taken.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said no-one was "above the law".

'Passage of time'

"If soldiers have acted outside the law then that is a matter for the police to investigate," he said.

"I don't know how true these claims are, it's difficult with all the passage of time to get at the facts here, and the extent to which the claims that have been made are accurate or exaggerated, again, needs to be established, but as I say, we're very clear, no-one is above the law."

The SDLP's Justice spokesperson Alban Maginness said the DPP had made the "right decision".

"You can not have such outrageous statements on television as last night without the police thoroughly, and in depth, investigating them because you can not simply allow people to simply ride above the law and to become judge, jury and executioner," he said.

Following the broadcast, the Conservative MP and former Army officer, Col Bob Stewart, and ex-police ombudsman, Baroness Nuala O'Loan, both said the BBC revelations should be investigated.


Image caption Col Bob Stewart said the authorities should pursue the soldiers' claims

Col Stewart, who served as an Army officer in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, said he was "saddened" by the claims made by the soldiers.

He said he had "no idea that anyone would operate outside the yellow card rules", referring to the Army's regulations stipulating when a soldier can open fire lawfully.

Under the rules, a soldier may fire if he perceives himself, a colleague or civilian, to be in imminent danger, but only if the soldier can identify a weapon and only if there is no other way to deal with the threat.

Col Stewart, who is now the Conservative MP for Beckenham, served six tours of duty in Northern Ireland.

He said that in his own experience, the yellow card rules were "applied rigidly".

Baroness O'Loan, who served as Northern Ireland's first police ombudsman from 2000 to 2007, said the families of those targeted deserved answers.

During her tenure, Baroness O'Loan carried out high-profile investigations into allegations of security force collusion in civilian murders.

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