Belfast Telegraph

Soldiers may give fresh statements

Soldiers who shot dead two IRA men 30 years ago may be asked to make new witness statements.

The SAS ambushed William Fleming and Daniel Doherty in the grounds of a hospital near Londonderry in 1984. At the time it was alleged that the pair had been about to target an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment soldier.

Two senior Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch witnesses have been identified, a lawyer told a coroner's court, and a third tracked down. A new inquest into their deaths is planned and a preliminary hearing was held in Belfast today.

Barrister for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) Peter Coll said: "These soldiers have been spoken to and informed that they may be asked to provide fresh statements. It is a matter for them whether they do.

"It is still a possibility that as an alternative to providing a statement to a warranted police officer that their statements may be taken by their lawyers."

He said the written testimony could then be forwarded to the coroner's office or an independent investigator appointed recently by Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Matt Baggott to conduct interviews.

Mr Coll said: "These individuals have been spoken to by the MoD, they have not indicated either way definitively what they are prepared to do. It has been a process of informing them that this is coming down the line at them."

A large number of inquests are being held into controversial killings by members of the security forces during Northern Ireland's 30-year conflict.

Some involve allegations that the highly trained special forces of the SAS shot to kill terror suspects.

In December 1984, Fleming, 19, from Gobnascale in Londonderry and Doherty, 23, from Rathlin Drive in the Creggan estate in the city, were gunned down in the grounds of Gransha Hospital.

An 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.

Relatives of the two men have also claimed the SAS soldiers did not provide full details on the ambush when interviewed by RUC detectives following the killings.

Mr Coll said six soldiers, whose identities were withheld, were involved in the operation and another three played command and control roles. The MoD is still considering whether to name officially the unit involved and is to appoint a new senior legal counsel to deal with the inquest.

Most of today's hearing surrounded the processing of legal papers by members of the coroner's service, police and army ahead of an inquest.

Lawyers for relatives of the dead men claimed little progress had been made, an allegation denied by a barrister for the PSNI who said the coroner's service was responsible for inquiring into details already made available.

Coroner Jim Kitson said: "I am not suggesting for any moment that anybody is deliberately delaying it but we do seem to be moving very slowly.

"What I am moving towards is considering directing that a timetable is drawn up of what steps need to be taken so that we can bring some formality to these ping-ponging issues.

"I would like to try to bring some clarity around what we are doing, when we expect it to be completed and the steps which need to be taken to get us from here to there."

Brenda Campbell, lawyer for the families, expressed frustration at the pace of progress.

"What we appear to be doing in this preliminary hearing is essentially covering the same ground, time and again," she said.

She told the coroner: "At the end of the year very little seems to have been done to provide you with any relevant evidence that they (the police and Army) have to give."

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