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Shootings by Military Reaction Force now focus of PSNI probe

 L-R Pat McVeigh (44) and Daniel Rooney(18) were gunned down in west Belfast in separate shootings in 1972
Andrea McKernon

THE activities of an undercover British Army unit during the early Troubles are at the centre of a PSNI investigation into some 18 shootings - including two fatal gun attacks in west Belfast in 1972.

Police appealed on Wednesday for witnesses to the killings of 44-year-old Patrick McVeigh and Daniel Rooney (18) and a series of other shootings carried out at the time, to come forward.

Mr Rooney (18) and Mr McVeigh (44) were both shot dead in separate drive by shootings carried out by members of the controversial Military Reaction Force (MRF).

Mr McVeigh, a father-of-six, was killed in west Belfast by an MRF patrol who claimed he was holding a weapon. Forensic tests were revealed as negative and his family have been fighting for over 40 years to clear his name. 

Mr Rooney was shot dead as he stood at the top of St James's Crescent in west Belfast in September 1972. 

Inquests were held into both deaths the following year, however the soldiers responsible for firing the fatal shots were not called to give evidence and the coroner recorded an open verdict.

Former members of the MRF admitted nefarious activity including murder during a television documentary made by journalist John Ware. 

Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory, took the unprecedented step of asking police to investigate the contents of the Panorama documentary Britain's Secret Terror Force aired in November 2013. 

However, PSNI officer Drew Harris who has since been promoted to Deputy Chief Constable, said despite the former MRF members' admissions, there was no evidence of any crime.

As the families were about to go into the High Court to force police to investigate the contents of the programme, the PSNI confirmed they had appointed an officer to review the case.

The PSNI's Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB) is probing allegations that members of the secretive Military Reaction Force (MRF) carried out random and unjustified shootings during the conflict.

Officers have issued a direct appeal for information about the series of shootings in Belfast in 1972. They have also urged former members of the MRF to come forward.

The investigation by LIB was triggered after a referral by Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory.

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Montgomery said: "We have been carrying out enquiries in relation to a number of shooting incidents between April and September 1972, during which two people were killed and a number of others were injured.

"We are looking at these incidents as part of an overall investigation into the activities of the Military Reaction Force at the time.

"We know these events took place a long time ago and we know they took place during one of the worst years of the Troubles when many shootings occurred but we believe there are people out there who can help us progress this investigation and we are appealing to them to contact us."

The incidents under investigation are:

The fatal shooting of 44-year-old Patrick McVeigh and shootings of four other men, aged 18, 25, 26 and 41, in the Riverdale Park area of West Belfast on May 12 1972

The fatal shooting of 18-year-old Daniel Rooney and shooting of an 18-year-old man in the St James Crescent area of West Belfast on September 26 1972

The shooting of two brothers, aged 19 and 30, in the Whiterock Road area of West Belfast, at approximately 8am on April 15 1972

The shooting of an 18-year-old man in the Glen Road area of West Belfast at approximately 9pm on May 6 1972

The shooting of a 15-year-old boy outside a disco at Oliver Plunkett School, Glen Road, Belfast, at approximately 11.50pm on May 7 1972

The shooting of an 18-year-old man in the Slievegallion area of West Belfast at approximately 11.30pm on May 12 1972

The shooting at a 34-year-old man in the Silvio Street area of North Belfast at approximately 12.20pm on May 26 1972

The shooting of four men, aged 18, 19, 21 and 28, in the Glen Road area of West Belfast, at approximately 12 midday, on June 22 1972

An incident during which a white Austin Morris vehicle, VRM COI8368, was shot at by a male who got out of what is believed to have been a stalled vehicle in the Kashmir Road area of west Belfast at approximately 2pm on May 9 1972

Mr Montgomery added: "Some of these incidents have been investigated before and people have been arrested or appeared in court in relation to some of them. There are also others which have not been investigated until now.

"But in order to progress this investigation, I need as much information from the public as possible. I am appealing to anyone who witnessed any of the shootings or anyone who has any further information in relation to them to come forward and talk to us. I also want to speak to former members of the MRF who served in Northern Ireland and would ask them to come forward and speak to my officers.

"I appreciate these incidents took place a long time ago but I believe there are people in the community and elsewhere today who were witnesses to them, remember them or talked about them. I need their help to progress this part of the overall investigation."

Anyone with information is urged to contact detectives on 028 92589128 or via email on LIBEnquiries@psni.pnn.police.uk.

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