Northern Ireland

Coroner hears SAS victim Francis Bradley was ‘executed’

Inquest into 20-year-old’s death nears conclusion

Francis Bradley, 20, was killed in disputed circumstances in an incident involving soldiers near Toomebridge on February 18 1986
Francis Bradley (PA/PA)

A coroner has been told that a Co Derry man shot dead in a suspected SAS shoot-to-kill operation was “executed”.

Francis Bradley (20) was shot close to an arms dump near Toome in February 1986 and his name was later added to the IRA’s roll of honour.

The inquest, which opened last year, previously heard that he had told of being threatened by police before he was killed.

Wednesday’s hearing came as the inquest reaches its final stages and just days before the British government’s cut off date of May 1 – after which legacy inquests that are not at their findings stage will be halted.

Francis Bradley shot dead by the SAS in February 1986
Francis Bradley's funeral

During the course of the inquest it was confirmed that 21 shots were fired at Mr Bradley by two SAS men - Soldier A, who fired the first shot and Solider C, who discharged 20 rounds.

It is now known Mr Bradley was struck by eight bullets.

The inquest previously heard that he was initially shot from behind and later while he lay on the ground.

The court also heard that Soldier C repeatedly fired at Mr Bradley as he moved towards him during the ambush, with the final three shots, which claimed his life, fired while his weapon was on automatic mode.

While giving evidence last month Soldier C repeatedly failed to answer questions about his role claiming “privilege against self-incrimination”.

During a hearing in Newtownards on Wednesday, Karen Quinlivan KC, acting for the Bradley family, summed up their case.

“We cannot dismiss what soldier A did, because the shot he fired could in itself been fatal,” she said.

“But, we have the intervening action by Soldier C making sure that there can be no doubt....the end of this operation Francis Bradley is dead.”

Addressing coroner Peter Irvine, Ms Quinlivan said Soldier C was close to Mr Bradley when the fatal shots were fired.

“What we are describing is a man standing, on the evidence of the ballistics witnesses, just three metres from Francis Bradley’s feet, and firing on automatic into his torso,” she said.

“He knew those shots were going to be fatal, he was dealing with a man lying defenceless on the ground, that man was not on his account armed, that man couldn’t get himself up even if he was trying to do so.”

Francis Bradley shot dead by the SAS in February 1986
The area close to where Francis Bradley was shot dead in 1986

Ms Quinlivan suggested Mr Bradley was deliberately killed.

“This is essentially, and I know you can’t use this language, but I will, this was essentially an execution by Soldier C of a man in a totally vulnerable position and that is the conclusion that you should reach, not using my language, using the language that is properly used,” she said.

“Soldier C did not have an honest belief that his life was in danger when he fired those shots and that is the conclusion we invite you to reach.”

Earlier in Wednesday’s hearing the court heard that lawyers for former British soldiers had lodged an application for the inquest to be converted to a statutory inquiry.

Ms Quinlivan told Mr Irvine “there is no difficulty with this inquest continuing to now reach a verdict”

“The application is made late and the timing of it is respectfully telling in the sense that….if the former military witnesses were successful in the application it would effectively abort all the work that has (been) done to date in the vain hope the Secretary of State would grant an inquiry.

“And I think we all know full well given what the Secretary of State has done in relation to the Legacy Act that there’s no prospect that will take place.”