Northern Ireland

New evidence confirms Catholic man shot at three times by RUC

SHOT DEAD: Cattle dealer Michael Leonard was killed in May 1973
SHOT DEAD: Cattle dealer Michael Leonard was killed in May 1973

New evidence has revealed that the British army was aware an innocent Catholic man shot dead by the RUC 50 years ago was fired at three times despite police claims that a single round was accidentally discharged.

Newly obtained records reveal that the British army's director of operations in the north,  General Officer Commanding (GOC) Sir Frank King, was made aware within hours that three rounds were fired at Michael Leonard (24) during a car chase in Co Fermanagh in May 1973.

Mr Leonard was shot after a car chase close to the Fermanagh and Donegal border between Pettigo and Belleek.

At the time police claimed the victim, 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.

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

Now fresh evidence confirms that the British army at the highest level was made aware that three shots were discharged, including the final shot believed to have claimed the life of Mr Leonard.

An extract from a British army document about the RUC shooting of Michael Leonard in May 1973
An extract from a British army document about the RUC shooting of Michael Leonard in May 1973

A briefing paper obtained by Paper Trail via a Freedom of Information Request reveals that senior military officials knew the background to the killing a day later.

One entry suggests that as the victim drove off "the RUC fired 2 shots at his car and, in the subsequent chase, the man appeared to draw his weapon so the RUC fired again and fatally wounded him".

Another insertion confirms "(Two) rounds were fired at the car.

"Chase was given in a landrover and a further shot fired, hitting Leonard, who later died of his injuries.”

The MOD states that handwritten notes on the brief state: “After Leonard went for a weapon” and “(One) Terr (terrorist) killed”.

It has previously been reported that an entry in a military log falsely claimed that Mr Leonard, who was unarmed, was a member of the IRA.

At a 1973 inquest an RUC inspector claimed that a police-man 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.

Mr Leonard's brother John Leonard believes the new evidence is important.

" This is further damning proof that the British armed forces killed Michael and then covered it up," he said.

Fr Joe McVeigh
Fr Joe McVeigh

Mr Leonard's cousin, campaigning priest Fr Joe McVeigh said plans by the British government to close down legacy investigations will deny his family justice.

“Britain’s proposed Legacy Bill will deny Michael’s family equal access to justice whilst protecting his RUC killer," he said..

"The Irish government must fight this travesty in Europe if Britain tries to block families like ours.”

The family's solicitor Adrian O’Kane of Patrick Fahy and Company Solicitors urged the Attorney General to rule on a new inquest.

" The decision to rule upon a fresh Inquest rests with the Attorney General, and in view of the Legacy Bill guillotine, a decision is needed now," he said.

"The grounds to order a fresh Inquest are most compelling, in line with other recent such directions from the Attorney General.”

Ciarán MacAirt
Ciarán MacAirt

Ciarán MacAirt of Paper Trail said:  "It is now up to the Irish government to stand up for the basic human rights of one of its citizens (killed) by a foreign police force".

A spokeswoman for the PSNI said: "This investigation currently sits with the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and we do not intend to comment further at this time".