Northern Ireland news

British soldiers not questioned about Coagh ambush planning

Three IRA men were killed in a suspected shoot-to-kill operation in Coiagh, Co Tyrone, in June 1991
Connla Young

A former RUC man who interviewed British soldiers involved in a suspected shoot-to-kill ambush has confirmed that no questions were asked about the planning of the deadly operation.

IRA members Pete Ryan, Lawrence McNally and Tony Doris were shot dead in the village of Coagh in June 1991 in an ambush thought 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 Chief Superintendent Edward James Molloy confirmed that he interviewed several British soldiers who were involved.

Mr Molloy, who in June 1991 was a Detective Chief Inspector in charge of the Regional Crime Squad based in Armagh and a lead interviewer, confirmed to the court that he didn’t question any of those interviewed about the planning of the ambush.

The former RUC man later added that he also didn’t ask any questions about the British army’s Yellow Card - which includes instructions for rules of engagement.

Mr Molloy’s evidence came after another former RUC officer revealed last week that he was instructed not to question British soldiers about the "planning or conception" of the Coagh ambush.

When pressed on where the direction had come from, retired Detective Superintendent George Samuel Christy referenced the chief constable and RUC Special Branch.

During yesterday’s hearing Mr Molloy was questioned by Karen Quinlivan KC about a statement made by one of the British soldiers involved in the operation.

He accepted a suggestion from Ms Quinlivan that he would have understood that “this wasn’t a spontaneous encounter between soldiers and paramilitaries, but this was a planned operation by the soldiers”.

Later Ms Quinlivan said: “So, once you become aware of the plan, the existences of a plan, and I know you don’t know anything about it beforehand, what steps did you take to establish what happened at the briefing?

Mr Molloy replied: “It appears that I didn’t take any steps, follow anything through, other than what happened at the shooting incident.

"That’s all I followed through at all the interviews as you can see my lord.”

Later Ms Quinlivan posed the direct question: “Why did you not ask a single soldier that you interviewed what was your plan on the morning of 3rd of June 1991?”

Mr Molloy replied: “My lord I can’t answer that question, I don’t remember.”

“I have to go by what I recorded at the time.”

Later in the hearing, the coroner, Mr Justice Humphreys, who is also a High Court judge, heard that none of the soldiers interviewed were asked “how they justified their actions by reference to the Yellow Card”.

Ms Quinlivan later said: “My question is this, can you explain why not a single soldier gives an account of firing multiple rounds?

“Why they were never tested, their evidence wasn’t tested, their account wasn’t tested by reference to the Yellow Card.

“In, other words ‘why did you not give a warning’?

“They might give a very good answer for that but that’s the kind of question you might ask.

“The Yellow card says you should give a warning - ‘why didn’t you give a warning’.

‘Why did you shoot at X, Y in these circumstances, why did you fire so many shots’?

“Nothing like that appears in the questions of any of these soldiers.

“Can you explain why that is?

Mr Molloy replied: “I didn’t ask that question, my lord.

Ms Quinlivan replied: “We all know that, the question is why didn’t you ask that question?”

The former RUC man replied: “I can’t answer that question my lord now, as I said I didn’t ask that question, that’s all I can say.”

Northern Ireland news