Northern Ireland news

New evidence in Michael Leonard RUC shooting case

Michael Leonard died after being shot by the RUC in 1973
Connla Young

CAMPAIGNERS and the family of a Co Fermanagh man shot dead by the RUC almost 50 years ago believe new evidence suggests the shot fired may not have been accidental.

Michael Leonard (24) was shot after a car chase close to the Fermanagh and Donegal border between Pettigo and Belleek on May 17 1973.

At the time police claimed that Mr Leonard, who was a disqualified driver, had failed to stop when he got into a car after leaving a shop and that a single shot was later fired during a chase.

New evidence uncovered by research charity Paper Trail later contradicted the single shot claim after British army logs from the time suggest that a total of three shots were fired at the cattle dealer.

It also emerged that an entry in a military log falsely claimed that Mr Leonard was a member of the IRA.

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.

New material, also contained in British army logs discovered by Paper Trail, makes no mention of an accidental shooting.

A British army situation report from May 18 1973 provides a military account of what happened.

It states: “The RUC gave chase and as they were trying to overtake Leonard he turned round (sic) and made a motion as if going for a weapon.

“The RUC fired one shot, fatally wounding Leonard.”

A British army intelligence summary from May 22 1973 also states: “He (Mr Leonard) then drove off in his car and the police fired two shots at the vehicle which did not stop.

“The police followed up in a Land Rover and fired one more shot which struck Leonard, who later died.”

Another intelligence summary, dated June 1973, claims that the IRA killing of an RUC man in Enniskillen that month “is almost certainly a PIRA assassination in retaliation of the killing by RUC of Michael Leonard. "

A further report said “the RUC shot dead Michael John Leonard when he refused a call to halt.”

Mr Leonard’s cousin and campaigning Catholic priest Fr Joe McVeigh last night said: “This new evidence highlights the failure of the British authorities to investigate the RUC (killing) of an unarmed Irish citizen.

Fr Joe McVeigh

“There must be a new and proper inquest,” he said.

Ciarán MacAirt from Paper Trail said the new evidence suggested the shooting was not properly investigated.

The PSNI said the investigation currently sits with the Police Ombudsman and "we do not intend to comment further at this time".

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