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Judge questions silence of soldier witnesses over SAS 'shoot-to-kill' deaths

Published 26/01/2016

SAS witnesses are understood to be reluctant to give evidence
SAS witnesses are understood to be reluctant to give evidence

Soldier witnesses who could help an inquest into a suspected SAS shoot to kill in the grounds of a Londonderry hospital are unwilling to make statements, lawyers said.

A senior judge said anybody with nothing to hide should have no problem giving their version of events to police.

Daniel Doherty, 23, and William Fleming, 19, died in the vicinity of Gransha Hospital in December 1984.

It has been alleged the republicans, who were from Derry, were planning to attack an off-duty member of the British Army's Ulster Defence Regiment when soldiers believed to be from the SAS ambushed them, firing almost 60 shots.

Lord Justice Weir asked: "Why would someone with nothing to hide have any reluctance to speak to a police officer?"

He added: "What is wrong with sending a police officer to meet these people by appointment and take a statement from them?"

He told a Belfast review hearing that he found it odd that in some cases soldiers were prepared to make a statement to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) but not the police and claimed it was absurd to have the MoD, as an interested party in the case, conduct the interviews.

"I don't think it is satisfactory; if there are statements available for people who were closer to the action surely there could be statements obtained from people who were not as close to the action.

"This is a case that is going to be suggested that these people were deliberately shot and it was part of some policy.

"Why would anybody, as somebody whose conduct was going to be called into question, use its own employees to take statements from witnesses?"

Peter Coll QC, barrister for the MoD, said they were working on the issue.

"These individuals have, I accept through the MoD liaison people, communicated a reluctance, however it is done.

"If these individuals are to be witnesses it is difficult to see how they can be witnesses without having provided statements in advance."

An inquest was held two years after the shootings but in 2010 Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin QC ordered another hearing after finding that police documents had been withheld from the coroner at the time.

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