Northern Ireland

Guarded welcome from Loughgall families for inquests after 30 years

 The scene at Loughgall RUC station in May 1987 when the SAS killed eight IRA men
 The scene at Loughgall RUC station in May 1987 when the SAS killed eight IRA men

NEW inquests into the deaths of eight IRA men and a civilian shot dead by the SAS almost 30 years ago has been given a guarded welcome by the sister of one of the men killed. 

The government had asked the Advocate General for Northern Ireland Jeremy Wright QC to take the decision on whether new probes should be undertaken into the controversial shootings at Loughgall, Co Armagh in May 1987. 

Northern Ireland's senior law officer, Attorney General John Larkin QC, usually makes the decisions on ordering new inquests in the region. 

However, the Loughgall case was referred to the Advocate General as it was deemed to touch on issues of national security - matters which are not devolved to Stormont. 

Mr Wright said he had informed the bereaved relatives, the Coroners' Service and Mr Larkin of his decision. 

Conservative MP Mr Wright is also the Attorney General for England and Wales. His position as Advocate General for Northern Ireland is a separate role. 

The SAS intercepted the IRA unit as they launched an attack on a police station in the village. 

Controversy has long surrounded the ambush with claims the SAS team, reputed to be around 36 strong, continued to fire on a number of the IRA men with heavy machine guns as they lay wounded on the ground.

The operation was one of the incidents during The Troubles that was surrounded by claims that the security forces were engaged in a shoot-to-kill policy.

The IRA members killed were Jim Lynagh, Patrick Kelly and Padraig McKearney (32), Gerard O'Callaghan (29), Tony Gormley (25), Eugene Kelly (25), Seamus Donnelly (19), and Declan Arthurs (21). 

Civilian Anthony Hughes, 36, was killed after being caught up in the gunfire. 

It is uncertain when the new inquests will get under way as the Coroners' Service is already struggling to deal with a backlog of legacy-related cases. 

Mairead Kelly, whose brother Patrick Kelly was one of those shot dead, said: "We welcome the decision to have new inquests into the Loughgall Ambush in which my brother was killed by the SAS. 

"It is a decision that should have been taken here in Northern Ireland and not in London and not by a British politician. We hope that the inquests can be established promptly and that the families of the victims and the coroner are provided with all the information they need. We are a step further toward the truth, justice and accountability we seek on behalf of our loved ones." 

Solicitor Darragh Mackin, from Belfast-based firm KRW LAW, which is representing Loughgall relatives, also welcomed the move. 

"We now request that the Coroner's Office for Northern Ireland is granted appropriate funding to undertake these inquests - and all other conflict-related legacy inquests - as soon as possible and a timetable for these inquests to be set," he said. 

"Further we will be seeking assurances regarding the disclosure of evidence. We remain concerned that this decision was taken by an English law officer who is an elected politician and not the Attorney General for Northern Ireland. Clarity on this matter remains so that it can be avoided in the future and such important decisions are taken in Belfast and not London." 

Mr Wright, who is a law officer independent of government, said: "Following careful consideration of a huge amount of material I have come to the decision that new inquests into the Loughgall deaths are justified. 

"The new inquests will establish who has died, and how, when and where the death occurred. The Coroners Service for Northern Ireland will now take this forward."