Northern Ireland news

Inquest for IRA men shot dead by SAS listed for spring 2023

 The ambush scene at Clonoe in Co Tyrone where four IRA men were shot dead by the British army in February 1992
David Young, PA

An inquest into the deaths of four IRA men shot in an SAS ambush is set to take place next spring, a coroner has said.

Mr Justice Michael Humphreys said he anticipates the inquest into the 1992 killings in Clonoe, Co Tyrone, will last six weeks.

He told a preliminary hearing in Belfast that he is also minded not to hear the inquest with a jury – a move he said is in line with other recent legacy cases.

Kevin Barry O’Donnell, 21, Sean O’Farrell, 23, Peter Clancy, 19, and Daniel Vincent, 20, were shot by SAS soldiers minutes after they had carried out a gun attack on Coalisland RUC station.

The special forces opened fire as the men arrived at St Patrick’s Church car park in a lorry they had used in the police station attack.

“The date which I’m going to propose for the commencement of this inquest is the 23rd of April 2023,” the coroner told Wednesday’s hearing at Belfast’s High Court.

While lawyers for some of the bereaved relatives welcomed the date, representatives of the security forces highlighted that the inquest will be running at the same time as another into an SAS Troubles operation and could therefore cause some resourcing issues.

The coroner stressed that the date is provisional and he is content to receive submissions from legal parties on its suitability.

Justice Humphreys said he is trying to hold the inquest in Dungannon, as he knows that is the preferred location for the next of kin.

But he warned there are “significant pressures” on court availability and there is a possibility the hearings will need to be moved to Banbridge.

The coroner raised the possibility that some of the soldiers involved in the attack may seek to engage their own legal representation during the inquest.

He made clear that anyone considering that step needs to move “sooner rather than later”.

“Whatever date is ultimately fixed for the inquest is very unlikely to be moved, simply because of the availability of courtrooms for that kind of a period of time, so I’ll not be sympathetic to anyone coming in late in the day saying ‘I’d like to have my own legal team please’,” he said.

The next preliminary hearing in the case has been set for November 18.

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