Case over 1990 shooting of two IRA men dismissed by ECHR

Mr McCaughey (23) and Mr Grew (37) died in 1990 near Loughall, Co Armagh

An application that the United Kingdom failed to properly investigate the shooting of two IRA men killed by the British Army near Loughall, Co Armagh in October 1990, has been dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as “manifestly ill-founded”.

The case was taken by Sally Gribben from Dungannon, Co Tyrone whose brother, Martin McCaughey, was shot outside a shed on a farm near Loughall by soldiers who had been waiting at the scene.

The killing of Mr McCaughey, and another IRA member who was with him, Desmond Grew, was one of a series of lethal incidents around the time that led to accusations that the British army was pursuing a "shoot to kill" policy in respect of republican militants.

Mr McCaughey (23) and Mr Grew (37) died when the Special Air Services members who were monitoring a mushroom shed in a field opened fire.

The solidiers suspected a stolen vehicle inside the shed was to be used for terrorism, and were monitoring the shed for that reason.

The autopsy of McCaughey described the cause of death as “laceration of the brain due to bullet wounds to the head”, noting that he had been struck by approximately ten high-velocity bullets.

The examination of Mr Grew’s body described the cause of death as “multiple injuries due to multiple high-velocity bullet wounds of trunk and limbs”, noting that there were approximately forty-eight wounds made by bullets entering and exiting his body.

The ECHR, in reviewing the facts of the case, outlined how nine soldiers were involved directly in the operation.

Soldiers A, B, C and D were located in the field and all four fired at the deceased, firing a total of seventy-two shots, most of them over a period of ten to fifteen seconds.

Two to three shots were fired at Mr Grew and possibly also Mr McCaughey at closer range.

According to soldier D, when he opened the door of the mushroom shed he thought he heard Mr Grew gasp and saw him move, and fired a further two shots to eliminate the danger. No shots were fired by the deceased.

No prosecution

In the wake of the deaths the IRA released a statement saying the two men had been on “active service” at the time they were shot.

A police inquiry was conducted into the killings and led to a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute. The soldiers said they had acted in self defence. A coroner’s inquest before a jury returned a verdict in 2012 of “lawful killing.”

Ms Gribben’s case to the ECHR was taken under Article 2 of the Convention and alleged that there was a failure to adequately investigate the deaths, citing five alleged shortcoming at the inquest.

These were in relation to the disclosure of information to the next of kin, the failure to secure the presence of soldier A as a witness, and the decision to hold the inquest in front of a jury.

They also included the failure to discharge one juror whom it was alleged had shown a hostility towards the case the next of kin was making, and alleged failings in the coroner’s summation and directions to the jury.

The court reviewed all five aspects of the complaint and found that they did not constitute reasons to find in Ms Gribben’s favour.

The ECHR judges found that there were weaknesses in the inquest but that they were not such as to prevent it achieving its essential purpose.

“The inquest was undoubtedly thorough, with a scope which extended beyond matters directly causative of the deaths and which encompassed broader questions relating to the planning and scope of the [army] operation,” the court said.

In relation to the coroner’s summation and directions, it did not accept that the coroner had failed to tell the jury that the test for self-defence was one that had to apply to each solidier individually, and each shot fired.

Ms Gribben was represented in the case by Madden & Finucane solicitors, Belfast.