Northern Ireland

IRA men killed in ambush given no 'verbal warning'

 The ambush scene where four IRA men were shot dead by the British army in February 1992
 The ambush scene where four IRA men were shot dead by the British army in February 1992

An inquest has heard it appears no "verbal warning" was given before four IRA men were shot dead by the British army in a suspected shoot-to-kill ambush more than 30 years ago.

Details of the controversial British army operation, believed to involve the SAS, emerged at the opening of an inquest into the men's deaths in Belfast on Monday.

IRA man Kevin Barry O'Donnell
IRA man Kevin Barry O'Donnell

Kevin Barry O'Donnell (21), Sean O'Farrell (22), Peter Clancy (21) and Patrick Vincent (20)were shot dead in the grounds of St Patrick's Church at Clonoe, near Coalisland, in February 1992.

Several people were also injured during the incident.

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Minutes before the British army ambush an IRA unit had carried out an attack on an RUC barracks in Coalisland.

The inquest heard that RUC members and 12 soldiers from the Queen's Regiment, who were quartered there, were present when the attack took place.

There were no injuries reported.

During the attack, IRA members used a Soviet made DShK heavy machine gun, fixed to the rear of a tipper lorry, to rake the front of the RUC barracks with gunfire.

Those involved later made their way to a carpark at St Patrick's Church where they were ambushed by what was described at the inquest as a 'special military unit', which the court heard was comprised of 12 members.

Coroner Michael Humphreys, who is also a High Court judge, was told intelligence had been received about the planned IRA attack.

"The police and army were in receipt of intelligence in advance that an attack was to take place on the RUC station on that night and that it would involve the use of the car park at Clonoe chapel," the coroner heard.

"As a consequence an army special military unit comprised of 12 soldiers was concealed on the perimeter of the carpark at it's southern end where there was a small hedgerow.

"They had been deployed there for some hours before the incident occurred."

The court also heard no verbal warning appears to have been given.

"The soldiers opened fire on the lorry and its occupants as well as the three cars that were also in the carpark," the coroner was told.

"No verbal warning appears to have been given prior to them beginning to shoot."

The inquest later heard that the British soldiers were armed with 11 Heckler and Koch rifles  and a general purpose machine gun.

A statement by a Catholic priest, who gave the last rights to those who died, was also read to the court.

While relatives of  the majority of those killed were legally represented at Monday's hearing, it was confirmed the family of Mr O'Farrell will have no role in the inquest.