Belfast Telegraph

Soldier believed his 'life was in danger' after Coalisland RUC station bomb

The scene of the bomb attack on Coalisland police station in 1997
The scene of the bomb attack on Coalisland police station in 1997

By John Cassidy

An undercover soldier said he opened fire on two terror suspects as he believed his “life was in immediate danger” seconds after a bomb attack on Coalisland RUC station.

The military witness, known only as Soldier A, gave evidence from behind a curtain at Belfast Crown Court at the trial of Paul Campbell.

Campbell (41), of The Mills, Coalisland, Co Tyrone, has been charged with causing an explosion likely to endanger life, and possessing an improvised explosive device with intent to endanger life on March 26 1997.

Campbell, who was 19 at the time of the attack, has denied both offences.

The prosecution claim that Campbell was one of two men who launched the attack, that he was shot by a soldier as he fled from the scene and that he jumped into a priest’s car.

It is also the Crown’s case that Campbell’s DNA was found in the back seat of the priest’s car, which was driven from the scene.

A co-accused, Gareth Doris, who was also shot in the aftermath of the bomb attack, was later convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In his evidence, the military witness said that on March 26, 1997, he was a soldier attached to ‘Headquarters Northern Ireland'.

That evening, he was told to carry out a “surveillance operation in Coalisland against a known terrorist”.

He told Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland, who is trying the case without a jury in a Diplock-style hearing, that five vehicles were deployed to the village containing seven soldiers.

As he was carrying out his surveillance operation from his parked car, the witness recalled: “I saw two individuals running, not sprinting, and carefully carrying something in their right hands but I couldn’t see what that was.”

Soldier A said he noticed the two suspects running down an alleyway which led to the police station.

“It was at this point I decided to get out of my car and see what was going on. My intention was to go to the alleyway but I didn’t get that far," he said.

"When I got to the entrance to the heritage centre I heard a couple of explosions... two loud explosions and a flash of light.”

He said that within a matter of seconds, two individuals came sprinting out of the alleyway and were "making good their escape".

He recalled: “I shouted very clearly ‘Army, Army, Army’. The two individuals separated and the individual, Mr Doris, continued to run towards me.

“The second individual ran to the right. I drew my Browning 9mm pistol and identified myself clearly I was a soldier.

“While they were running they were both rummaging in their waistbands. I believed they were both pulling weapons from their waistbands.

“I clearly believed my life was in immediate danger. I believed I was about to be attacked with the weapons and they would try and take my weapon off me and murder me and murder other people in the future. I fired two warning shots over their heads.

“I shouted ‘Army, Army, Army’. Mr Doris was sprinting towards me even though I had identified myself as a soldier and had fired warning shots.

“I fired two shots and hit Mr Doris in the upper right quadrant of his body towards his shoulder and he fell down.”

He said he saw the second individual “sprinting away” and shouted “Stop, Stop. But he didn’t stop.”

Soldier A recalled seeing this suspect running towards a parked white car and fired “one or two rounds” at him before he got into the back of the car which “made good its escape”, adding: “I was not aware if I had hit him.”

The judge heard that a second member of the surveillance team, identified as Soldier B, arrived on the scene a few minutes later.

As they waited for an ambulance and police to arrive, Soldier A said a “large crowd had formed of between 70-100 people, some of whom were drunk”.

The soldier said at that moment he recalled the events of 1988 when two soldiers, Corporals Derek Wood and David Howes, “who were pulled from their car and brutally murdered”.

Defence counsel Orland Pownall QC put it to the witness that his recollection of events was not totally clear given that his statement was made 11 months after the incident.

Soldier A replied: “Some things are absolutely seared in my mind.”

Mr Pownall asked: “When you fired those shots, was it your intention to kill them?’’

Soldier A replied: “I was stopping that from happening. My intention was not to kill Mr Doris. He would have died if that had happened.”

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