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Advisers plea over 1984 shootings

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Attorney General John Larkin

Attorney General John Larkin

PA Archive/Press Association Images

Attorney General John Larkin

Military advisers who sat in on police interviews with SAS soldiers involved in the ambush and killing of two suspected IRA men almost 30 years ago could be called to give evidence at their inquests.

Daniel Doherty, 23, and William Fleming, 19, were shot dead in the grounds of the Gransha Hospital in Londonderry in December 1984. It was alleged that the pair, who were both from the city, were planning to carry out an attack on an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment soldier when the SAS opened fire.

An original inquest was held two years after the shootings but in 2010 Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin ordered another hearing after finding that police documents had been withheld from the coroner at the time.

At a preliminary hearing in Belfast's Old Town Hall, lawyers representing the families of the two men requested the identification of Army legal advisers or senior soldiers who routinely accompanied the rank and file during police interviews.

"The soldier or soldiers who attended interviews should be identified - given a cipher - and should make a statement on their role," said barrister Karen Quinlivan QC.

She said there were concerns about an alleged military policy which directed soldiers to only provide the minimum amount of information required for the police investigation. Ms Quinlivan said it was also important to know whether the advisers involved in this case had attended police interviews relating to other lethal force deaths.

"There are broad issues. Soldiers were engaged in lethal force and the state - Army legal services and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) - operated to ensure that they were not held accountable," she said.

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There were also requests for military intelligence files on the IRA suspects to be handed over to their families' legal teams. "We know that there was intelligence in advance, it is obviously relevant to the circumstances. The question is whether it has been used as a shoot-to-kill policy," said Ms Quinlivan.

Peter Coll, acting for the Ministry of Defence, claimed the families' lawyers were embarking on a "fishing expedition" and questioned the relevance of advisers' roles in other lethal force incidents. "This is putting the cart before the horse. Particularly, we do not know if military advisers were involved," he said.

Fiona Doherty, barrister for the Coroners Service, said anything which could have affected the quality of evidence gathered at the time of the killings would be relevant to the inquest.


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