Belfast Telegraph

Michael Tighe shooting: The case which sparked one of the most notorious allegations of a cover-up in history of Troubles

By Chris Kilpatrick

The shooting dead of Michael Tighe has reignited controversy around an alleged 'dirty war' waged by the security forces more than three decades after the 17-year-old was gunned down.

That death was one of six investigated by John Stalker and Colin Sampson to try to establish if police intended to kill. The Stalker and Sampson reports were long classified top secret.

The PSNI finally handed over edited versions to the coroner in 2010 after a long legal battle.

The reports were then passed to lawyers for the families.

Michael Tighe was killed and Martin McCauley wounded when police shot them in a hay shed near Lurgan on November 24 1982.

Mr McCauley - later one of the so-called Columbia Three - was charged and convicted with possession of weapons and given a suspended jail term.

That conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal last September.

It collapsed on the basis surveillance tapes made by the RUC and copied by MI5 were ruled to have been kept secret and destroyed.

The police found three rifles lying on bales of hay in the shed.

The appeal court judges said it was not disputed that no gunfire was directed at police from inside the shed. The Crown case at the trial was that an RUC patrol was operating in the Co Armagh area when they received information which led them to the shed.

They said they heard a noise like a rifle being cocked and called out: "Police - throw out your weapon".

When an officer looked inside, it was claimed Mr McCauley moved towards him with a rifle. Two officers opened fire.

The officers said Mr Tighe was high up among bales of hay, again pointing a rifle, and they fired on him.

Each of the police officers were found to have given false accounts after briefings from Special Branch superiors, according to court papers.

The trial judge was also concerned about forensic evidence from the shed and ruled the officers' evidence unreliable.

The decision to prosecute Mr McCauley was based on evidence contained in an investigation file received by police.

However, the file contained no reference to the fact the hay shed had been the subject of an eavesdropping operation prior to and during the shooting.

While the then Director of Public Prosecutions was informed in August 1983 of the device, he was not told the operation had produced audio tape recordings immediately before and during the RUC raid or that logs and transcripts were produced.

The Court of Appeal judgment said that later that year, he learned false statements had been made by police officers on the instruction of senior officers.

The DPP was so concerned he had not been given all the available information, he urged the Chief Constable to investigate.

As a result of that request, the hay shed incident and two other shootings were investigated between 1984 and 1987 by John Stalker, Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, and subsequently by Colin Sampson, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police.

That investigation reportedly established an audible tape recording and logs had been destroyed by a senior police officer and an unauthorised copy of the tape made by the Army came into the possession of the security service who destroyed it in 1985.

Mr McCauley referred his 1985 conviction to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Its investigation uncovered a memo reportedly from a security service officer who said he learned that RUC officers had exceeded their orders and shot the teenagers without giving them a chance to surrender and alleged that a senior police officer had the tape destroyed.

Michael Tighe shooting: RUC and MI5 in shoot-to-kill probe after tape of teen death 'sabotaged' 

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