British to investigate claims on 1972 shoot-to-kill policy

Amnesty calls for inquiry into allegations of undercover army drive-by killings

The British ministry of defence is to investigate claims that a British army plainclothes undercover unit under the command of an army brigadier operated a sanctioned shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland.

The ministry is also to carry out an inquiry into allegations that in 1972 members of the British army's military reaction force (MRF) engaged in drive-by shootings that led to the deaths of two men, Patrick McVeigh and Daniel Rooney, neither of whom had paramilitary connections.

The claims were contained in a BBC Panorama programme last night about the unit which was presented by journalist John Ware.

Three former members of the MRF appeared slightly disguised on the programme to say they participated in several drive-by shootings in which people were killed and wounded even though there was no independent evidence that any of them were armed or were members of the IRA.

'Extra-judicial' killings
Amnesty Northern Ireland called for an inquiry into the "extra-judicial" killings. "The revelations in Panorama underline our call for the UK government to establish a new, overarching mechanism to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Northern Ireland, whether carried out by paramilitary groups or the security forces," said Amnesty Northern Ireland's director Patrick Corrigan.


"Victims and bereaved family members have a right to truth and justice. Such a process must focus not just on those who pulled the trigger, but also those in positions of authority who pulled the strings."

'Britain's dirty war'
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the programme shone a light on one aspect of "Britain's dirty war" in Ireland.

“The existence of the military reaction force and its activities have been known for many years, but the programme contains new information and provides a fresh insight into the use by the British government of counter-gangs and secret military units.”

Trevor Ringland, co-chair of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland, said "anyone who acted outside the law during the Troubles, whether they were republican, loyalist or a member of the security forces, was wrong and their actions were unjustified".

“What we certainly shouldn’t lose sight of, when the small number of incidents which involve members of the security forces breaking the law are scrutinised, is that the army and the police saved thousands of lives in Northern Ireland. They prevented our province from descending into outright civil war and, overwhelmingly, they kept people safe.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times