Northern Ireland news

Police admit 1973 RUC killing of Catholic man Michael Leonard was murder

Fr Joe McVeigh at the launch of his booklet on the murder of his cousin Michael Leonard 
Connla Young

THE RUC shooting of a Catholic man in Co Fermanagh 46 years ago is now being classified as murder.

Cattle dealer Michael Leonard (24) was shot dead after a car chase near the Co Donegal border between Pettigo and Belleek on May 17 1973.

Last week it emerged that Attorney General John Larkin QC believes his killing was not justified and that later attempts by the security forces to blacken his name were “despicable”.

Mr Leonard was a disqualified driver. A police patrol had earlier spotted him getting into a car after leaving a shop.

At a 1973 inquest an RUC inspector claimed that a policeman who held a rifle out of the passenger side of a pursuing Land Rover “accidentally snatched the trigger and discharged a round” after the vehicle “took a violent turn”. None of the three officers involved appeared at the inquest, which returned a finding of misadventure.

The PSNI has said the 1973 murder of Michael Leonard by the RUC was murder

However, British army logs have revealed that three shots were fired. An entry in a military log falsely claimed that Mr Leonard was an IRA member. A senior officer in a report also wrongly claimed that “he was known son of an IRA man” (sic).

The new information was discovered by Ciarán MacAirt from the charity Paper Trail and published last week in a booklet by Mr Leonard’s cousin, Fr Joe McVeigh.

Asked about the shooting, PSNI assistant chief constable George Clarke said police “understand the suffering the family of Michael Leonard must be going through as they await this review and how difficult it must be for them”.

“His murder is within the caseload of the Legacy Investigation Branch and we will review and reconsider all evidence when this case is reviewed,” he said.

Last night Fr McVeigh said: “I am glad to hear... that the PSNI are now seeing it as we have always seen the killing of Michael – as murder, as blatant murder, premeditated killing and therefore murder.”

Mr McAirt said: “This is vindication for a bereaved family that has had to shoulder not only the grief of losing Michael to murder by those who should have defended his basic human rights.”

  • Clarification:

Police have since apologised to the family of Michael Leonard after "inaccurately" describing his shooting by the RUC as a "murder".

In a statement last night, a police spokeswoman said: "To describe the death of Michael Leonard as a murder in our response to The Irish News was regrettably inaccurate as his case has not yet been reviewed or reinvestigated by our Legacy Investigation Branch. We apologise to the family for any hurt this may have caused to them and will be contacting them to offer to meet them and apologise in person.

"We are aware that a complaint has been made to PONI regarding Michael’s death and we do not intend to comment further at this time."

Mr Leonard (24), a disqualified driver, was shot dead by an RUC officer in 1973 after a car chase on the Donegal/Fermanagh border. An RUC inspector claimed at the initial inquest that a policeman who held a rifle out of the passenger side of a pursing Land Rover "accidentally snatched the trigger and discharged a round."  

However, recently discovered logs reveal that three shots were fired.

In statement to the Irish News last Thursday, police said: "His (Mr Leonard's) murder is within the caseload of the Legacy Investigation Branch."When asked by the Irish News on Friday to confirm that Mr Leonard's death was now being treated as murder, the PSNI said it was.

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