Northern Ireland

British soldier’s failure to show at Clonoe inquest branded ‘unsatisfactory’

British army ambush claimed the lives of four men

 The scene at Clonoe in Co Tyrone where four IRA men were shot dead by the British army in February 1992
 The scene at Clonoe in Co Tyrone where four IRA men were shot dead by the British army in February 1992  The scene at Clonoe in Co Tyrone where four IRA men were shot dead by the British army in February 1992

A coroner has described the failure of a former British soldier who shot an IRA man during an SAS ambush to appear at his inquest as “unsatisfactory”.

Coroner Michael Humphreys, who is also a High Court judge, was speaking after legal representatives for the squaddie, known as Soldier F, said they had concerns about his “state of mind”.

Monday’s inquest hearing heard Soldier F is believed to have shot Kevin Barry O’Donnell (21) twice during the ambush in the grounds of St Patrick’s Church at Clonoe, near Coalisland, in February 1992.

Republicans Sean O’Farrell (22), Peter Clancy (21) and Patrick Vincent (20) were also killed.

From left, Peter Clancy, Kevin Barry O'Donnell and Sean O'Farrell were among the four men shot dead
From left, Peter Clancy, Kevin Barry O'Donnell and Sean O'Farrell were among the four men shot dead From left, Peter Clancy, Kevin Barry O'Donnell and Sean O'Farrell were among the four men shot dead at Clonoe


Minutes before the ambush an IRA unit had carried out an attack on an RUC barracks in nearby Coalisland.

Mr Humphrey’s said he only became aware of Soldier F’s withdrawal from Monday’s hearing earlier in the day.

A lawyer for British soldiers involved in the case confirmed that Soldier F and others were consulted in England over the weekend.

The lawyer told the coroner he was “a bit restricted” in what he could say.

“In the course of the consultation counsel formed the view that it wasn’t possible for Soldier F to complete his statement or indeed give evidence today,” he said

“In broad terms my lord, we had concerns about his frame of mind, if I can put it that way, his degree of agitation.”

The lawyer confirmed that Soldier F is aged in his 70s and has a “relevant medical history” who moved house this week.

He later told the court that in terms of medical history “Soldier F has previously suffered from strokes and has been injured in a traumatic incident, very significant traumatic incident”.

“And it was against that backdrop, given his frame of mind, in the course of yesterday (Sunday) afternoon and into the early evening that regrettably counsel came to that view”.

He added that it is expected Soldier F will complete his statement and that he will give evidence.

“It’s simply a question of his fitness to do that today,” he said.

Mr Humphrey’s said he was concerned that the Coroner’s Service was “not informed directly”, which prompted an apology.

Frank O’Donoghue KC, acting for the family of Kevin Barry O’Donnell, said his clients were “extremely unhappy about the situation”.

“We find ourselves in the somewhat remarkable position….of a witness who was due to come to give evidence today in relation to the death of an individual, who’s death he caused by whatever means, or it appears he caused, by firing twice into the body of Kevin Barry O’Donnell.

“So, it’s an important matter.”

“I still know nothing as to why he’s not here other than he was agitated in the course of a consultation.”

The lawyer said the ex-soldier’s agitation “was not a reason for him not to give evidence…. not to make a statement no matter how short”.

Mr Humphrey’s said: “There’s no doubt it is unsatisfactory” adding that Mr O’Donoghue had raised a number of questions “perfectly legitimately”.

He said lawyers for Soldier F should write by close of business on Tuesday “setting out a full and detailed account of the reasons why Soldier F was unable to comply with the previous indications in relation to the giving of a statement and giving evidence today”.