Northern Ireland

'Showboating' led to soldiers' deaths

Corporal David Howes was killed in 1988<br />&nbsp;
Corporal David Howes was killed in 1988

The killing of two British soldiers by the IRA in 1988 was the result of one of the officers “showboating” in front of a new recruit Hartnett claims.

Corporals Derek Wood and David Howes were beaten and shot dead after they drove into the funeral of IRA man Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh in west Belfast.

He was one of three people killed when loyalist killer Michael Stone attacked the funeral of three IRA men members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar weeks earlier.

According to Hartnett, both men were members of the Joint Communications Unit – Northern Ireland, who were based in Belfast.

The former soldier claims he was told the full story of how the men died during a training session and says he was also shown footage of the incident captured by a helicopter.

Hartnett claims trainees were told that the corporals were not on a sanctioned surveillance operation and that is appears Wood, who was nearing the end of his tour in the north, was giving his colleague, who was just starting his tour, a first glimpse of Belfast.

He said those in attendance were told that “Woods was showboating” and had not checked to see what districts were out of bounds that day.

He also said that Corporal Wood fired a shot in the air as an angry crowd of republicans gathered around his car.

Some have questioned why the soldiers did not open fire on their attackers.

Hartnett claims that footage of the incident reveals that the magazine housing of his gun was empty meaning that when he went to fire a second shot it resulted in “a dead man’s click” as there were no rounds left in the weapon to fire.

He revealed that his trainer gave him and the other soldiers present stark advice.

He wrote “Get this into your heads: you are not special forces and if you ever find yourselves in a similar situation, forget all this warning shot bullshit.

“Shoot first and make it count! It’s better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”

Hartnett revealed that after the deaths of Woods and Howes vehicles used by the unit were fitted with a device known as ‘perks and plates’ (plastic explosives reactive plates), small disk like plates fitted to the vehicle under the passenger and drivers side.

Packed with a small amount of explosives and ball bearings the device could be fired from a switch fitted to the dashboard in a bid to scare off potential attackers.

A covert alarm system has also been fitted to all vehicles.

Operators in the field also wore special watches that when turned to a certain number on the dial triggered a tracking device that could lead colleagues to them if they were snatched.