Northern Ireland

Former RUC man reveals he was told not to question soldiers about plan for Coagh ambush that killed three IRA men

(l-r) Tony Doris, Peter Ryan and Lawrence McNally died in an SAS ambush in 1991 
(l-r) Tony Doris, Peter Ryan and Lawrence McNally died in an SAS ambush in 1991 

A former senior RUC officer has revealed he was instructed not to question British soldiers about the "planning or conception" of a suspected shoot-to-kill ambush which resulted in the deaths of three IRA men in Co Tyrone.

IRA members Pete Ryan, Lawrence McNally and Tony Doris were shot dead in the village of Coagh in June 1991 in an operation believed to involve the SAS.

The experienced IRA men were believed to have been planning to shoot a UDR member when the ambush was launched.

At an inquest into their deaths in Banbridge yesterday, retired Detective Superintendent George Samuel Christy, who investigated the killings, revealed how he was instructed not to quiz troops on how the military operation was put together.

Under questioning from Karen Quinlivan KC, Mr Christy confirmed that a similar instruction was issued in relation to other cases.

When pressed on where the direction had come from, Mr Christy referenced the chief constable and RUC Special Branch.

Later in yesterday's hearing, the coroner, Mr Justice Humphreys, questioned Mr Christy on his evidence.

The coroner said that in the aftermath of the ambush elected representatives had claimed it was part of a shoot-to-kill policy.

The former RUC officer agreed that "one of the allegations might be that there was an agreement or plan in advance to kill these IRA operatives".

"You will have realised that was an issue," the coroner said.

"But the evidence you have given me today is that you weren't allowed to go there, you were not allowed by a Special Branch officer, or possibly the chief constable, but you were directed not to investigate whether there in fact was a plan to kill these people," he said.

In reply the retired officer said: "That's correct my lord."

The coroner continued: "So that was an obvious area that wasn't under consideration in your investigation, you simply didn't look at that issue".

"That's correct," Mr Christy replied.

The retired officer also agreed with the corner that if he had "established there was an agreement to kill these people, or whoever might have attended at the scene in Coagh, then that would have been a conspiracy to murder potentially".

Mr Justice Humphreys then asked the former RUC officer about correspondence with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Mr Christy agreed with the coroner that in his correspondence with the DPP he was "satisfied with the actions of the military patrol were reasonable and justified in the circumstances".

This prompted the coroner to ask: "What you don't say to the DPP is 'but, I have not investigated anything to do with the planning or conception of this military operation'.

"Why did you not tell the Director of Public Prosecutions that your investigation did not include anything to do with the planning or conception of what happened in Coagh on that day?"

The former RUC officer replied: "I don't recollect my lord, I wasn't asked by the DPP."

Mr Justice Humprey's later added: "But if in fact there was a caveat, which is 'I am recommending no prosecution but I don't know if there was any antecedent agreement or plan which might have been unlawful' - would that not be an important thing to say to the director for his consideration?

Mr Christy said: "On reflection my lord, perhaps, but I didn't."

The ex-officer later said he was "instructed to take it (the investigation) from the scene of the shooting and so on and investigate that.

"Not to go back any further than that," he said.

The coroner said: "But that's not an instruction that would be given to you in relation to any ordinary crime, nobody would say to you, don't investigate how it came to pass that this incident happened.

"Just investigate the incident.

"This only happened presumably to you when there was lethal force used by the army."

Mr Christy replied "it did in this incident my lord, yes" and agreed that it also happened in other instances.

The coroner later said he couldn't understand "why the director of public prosecutions, whose decision it is whether or not to proceed with any form of prosecution against anybody, rising out of this incident wasn't told that you carried out a limited investigation.

"Because you told us today, quiet freely, Ms Quinlivan asked you the questions, you had no difficulty in telling us that these limitation existed," he said.

"Why would you not have told the most senior officer in the prosecution service that same information?"

Mr Christy responded: "I honestly have no recollection of having a discussion with the senior director about this case."

Mr Justice Humphreys said: "We have seen your written report and its over 50 pages long, its very detailed, it's analytical about the evidence. What is absent for it is the caveat, limitation or warning that you haven't actually investigated what happened before the soldiers got to the scene.

"That's correct my lord," Mr Christy responded.

During the hearing the coroner raised the Stalker Inquiry, which investigated suspicions of a shoot-to-kill policy, and the 1987 Loughgall ambush, during which nine people, including eight IRA men, were shot dead by the SAS.

"Because at this time reports from the Stalker Inquiry were in existence, senior members of the RUC would have been aware of things like Stalker, Loughgall had happened and there had been other incidents at which (a) shoot-to-kill policy had been alleged.

"And you were specifically directed not to investigate whether that had happened in this particular case?" the coroner asked.

"That's what I was told my lord," the former RUC officer replied.