Northern Ireland

SAS man’s Coagh inquest jail sentence quashed and replaced with £5,000 fine

Former British soldier who refused to attend inquest into British army killing of IRA members recently referred to PPS

SAS shooting of three IRA men, including the cousin of first minister Michelle O’Neill, was justified, coroner finds
The scene of the SAS shooting of three IRA men in Coagh, Co Tyrone, in 1991

A former SAS soldier who refused to give evidence at an inquest into the killing of three IRA members has had a six-month sentence for contempt of court quashed and replaced by a £5,000 fine.

The former squaddie, known as Soldier F, who was involved in planning the ambush and who fired eight shots, was sentenced at Edinburgh Court of Session earlier this year.

Earlier this week it emerged that he is one of several soldiers reported by a coroner to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the planning of the operation.

He had been called to give evidence at the inquest into the killing of three IRA men in Coagh, Co Tyrone, in June 1991 but refused to attend.

East Tyrone IRA members Pete Ryan, Lawrence McNally and Tony Doris died after an SAS team raked their car with gunfire.

(l-r) Tony Doris, Peter Ryan and Lawrence McNally died in an SAS ambush in 1991 
(l-r) Tony Doris, Pete Ryan and Lawrence McNally died in an SAS ambush in 1991 

The three IRA men are believed to have been on their way to shoot a UDR soldier before they were shot.

A petition was later made to the Scottish court by the presiding coroner in the north, Michael Humphreys, who heard the Coagh inquest, and who is a High Court judge.

Several former soldiers and RUC members have provided evidence to the inquest, which is in its closing stages.

Last year the coroner ruled that Soldier F should give oral evidence because of his importance in dealing with issues central to the inquest.

Despite providing a witness statement, Soldier F said he would not appear voluntarily to testify and face cross-examination.

He denied any wrongdoing but expressed concern that he could be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and ultimately face criminal proceedings.

Last week a three-judge panel quashed Soldier F’s six-month sentence and replaced it with a £5,000 fine.

In a written judgment reference was made to a series of health concerns it is claimed Soldier F suffers from.

The court panel said “it seems clear that there was indeed a direct relationship between the significant mental health difficulties from which the respondent suffers and the circumstances which led to the contempt of court”.

“His condition has been consistently diagnosed as PTSD, severe depression and anxiety, characterised inter alia by regular and intrusive flashbacks and nightmares of a highly distressing nature, hypervigilance against potential sources of danger (he refers to sitting in an alcove at home, where he has a clear view of the street), an inability to socialise and living a reclusive lifestyle, in constant fear of reprisals”.

Separately, it emerged this week that Soldier F is also one of four former British soldiers who have been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the coroner in relation to the Coagh inquest.

Earlier this week the Ryan and Doris families welcomed a decision to make a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions under the Justice (NI) Act 2002 “on the basis that criminal offences may have been committed in relation to the planning of the operation”, their legal team said.

Under the Justice (NI) Act 2002 act, a coroner can refer a matter to the director of public prosecutions if it appears “to disclose that an offence may have been committed”.

Pádraig Ó'Muirigh, of Ó'Muirigh Solicitors, said said this is linked to “the conduct of Soldiers M, N, E and relation to the planning of the operation”.

“He has also decided to exercise his discretion to refer the conduct of Soldiers E and U to the PPS in respect of the destruction of a video recording of the incident,” Mr Ó'Muirigh added.