Northern Ireland news

Family of Michael Leonard 're-traumatised' after PSNI 'inaccurately' described 1973 death as murder

Michael Leonard was shot dead by the RUC in 1973
Connla Young

THE family of a Catholic man shot dead by the RUC has been "re-traumatised" after the PSNI said it "inaccurately” described his death as murder.

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

A police patrol had earlier spotted the disqualified driver getting into a car after leaving a shop.

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

In a statement issued to The Irish News last Thursday, the PSNI described the killing of Mr Michael Leonard as “murder”.

When asked on Friday to confirm the death was now being treated as murder, the PSNI said it was.

However, on Monday the force issued a fresh statement apologising to the dead man’s family.

“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.”

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.

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”.

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

Mr MacAirt last night said the entire episode has reopened fresh wounds.

“This gross error of police reporting has done little except re-traumatise the family of Michael Leonard,” he said.

The family’s solicitor Pat Fahy also said it is “incorrect for police to say that this matter will form part of the Legacy Investigation Unit’s work”.

“The Attorney General, John Larkin, has referred the case to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for consideration of criminal proceedings.

“This will require the PSNI to investigate and report back to the PPS."

The solicitor said this “must be a swift investigation, as the Attorney General has deferred his decision on the issue of the Leonard family’s request for a new inquest until the question of criminal action against the perpetrators has been answered”.

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