New inquest into SAS Derry killings
New hearing ordered it emerged police documents had been withheld from coroner
Daniel Doherty (23) and William Fleming (19) were shot dead in the grounds of the Gransha Hospital in Derry in December 1984. Relatives of the two men have claimed the SAS soldiers did not provide full details on the ambush when interviewed by Royal Ulster Constabulary detectives in the wake of the killings. Photograph: Stephen Hird/Reuters
A senior detective has been appointed in a bid to obtain fresh statements from six SAS soldiers involved in the ambush and killing of two suspected IRA men almost 30 years ago.
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 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 Royal Ulster Constabulary detectives in the wake of the killings.
A preliminary hearing in Belfast today ahead of the fresh inquest was told that PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott has now asked a detective chief inspector to head efforts to take new statements from security force personnel involved in the incident.
While that potentially includes the soldiers who carried out the operation, a lawyer for the British ministry of defence told coroner Jim Kitson that the British army could not compel former servicemen to make statements for the purposes of an inquest.
Mr Pete Coll said: “It is for those ex-soldiers whether they are prepared to engage with the police in the provision of fresh statements.
“The MoD can’t compel them, even if they were still serving.”
Mr Coll suggested that former soldiers may decide to provide a statement without involving the police.
Mr Kitson, noting the possibility of any of the men giving evidence to the MoD instead, said: “If he was prepared to give it to the military why would he not give it to police?”
The coroner said he would wait to see how the detective got on before examining the potential implications of statements not being made directly to police.
Brenda Campbell, representing the family, said it was important that the process of collecting new statements was “open and transparent”.
Earlier, Dr Tony McGleenan, on behalf of the PSNI, told the court that the detective did intend to take statements from two former police officers who were involved in the planning and control of the lethal force operation.
Officers involved in investigating the shootings at the time, both Royal Military Police and RUC, may also be interviewed ahead of the new inquest.
A range of other outstanding legal matters were discussed in the hearing at Mays Chambers in Belfast, including issues arising from ongoing disclosure of security force files relating to the shootings.
Mr Kitson set a date of December 12th for the next preliminary hearing.