EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS IN NORTHERN IRELAND?
MICHAEL TIGHE was only 17 when he died in a hail of police bullets in a barn. But 25 years on his elderly parents are still trying to find out the full circumstances surrounding their son’s death and why he was targeted by police to became another innocent victim of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The killing of teenager Tighe was just one of a number of suspicious deaths later investigated by John Stalker, Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester during the 1980s. His top secret reports became the centre of the infamous Stalker Affair which surrounded claims British security forces used a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland.
A legal battle has been fought for decades over the killings of Tighe, shot on November 24, 1982, alongside his friend Martin McCauley who was wounded in the attack; IRA members Eugene Toman, Sean Burns and Gervaise McKerr, who were shot on November 11, 1982; and INLA members Roderick Carroll and Seamus Grew, shot on December 12, 1982. Police officers tried for the killings were cleared but there have been persistent allegations that the dead men were shot without attempts to arrest them. Amid conspiracy theories, Stalker’s inquiry was said to have been close to uncovering murky truths that went right to the heart of government and he was replaced in his role by Sir Colin Sampson and the report kept secret. But in a move that could finally bring some closure to relatives of the dead it’s just emerged that the secret documents are finally to be revealed to Northern Ireland’s chief coroner, although they will not be made public immediately. The outlines of the Stalker affair are by now well known. In 1982 members of a highly trained RUC team named the Headquarters Mobile Support Unit (HQMSU) ambushed five unarmed men and two youths in three separate incidents. Three of the men - Toman, Burns and McKerr - were active in the IRA, while Grew and Carroll were key figures in the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). At the time that they died no warrants had been issued for their arrests. Tighe had no known paramilitary associations at the time but McAuley was some years later linked to the IRA. Toman, Burns and McKerr were killed in hail of bullets as they allegedly crashed through a police road block in Lurgan, Grew and Carroll died on the outskirts of a housing estate in Armagh city, allegedly in similar circumstances. Tighe and McAuley were inside a barn near Craigavon, staked out and stormed by HQMSU. Four RUC officers were charged with the murders of Toman and Grew but acquitted in two separate trials.
Stalker led the official investigation into the killings. After learning MI5 had taped one of the incidents he demanded the recording and was subsequently taken off the inquiry and suspended in a move which caused public outcry. He was reinstated but later resigned and went on to write a book Stalker, published in 1988. He was quoted at the time in The Times newspaper as saying: “I never did find evidence of a shoot-to-kill policy as such. There was no written instruction, nothing pinned up on a notice board. But there was a clear understanding on the part of the men whose job it was to pull the trigger that that was what was expected of them.”
Stalker was taken off the probe in 1986 and suspended from duty following false allegations that his friend, local businessman Kevin Taylor, had ties to a group of Manchester criminals dubbed the Quality Street gang. Stalker was accused of having socialised with gangsters and charged with misconduct before managing to clear his name.
This month, though, in a move that could finally lead to inquests into the shootings, John Leckey, Northern Ireland’s chief coroner, announced he’d won the right to see the reports adding that Northern Ireland’s chief constable Sir Hugh Orde, was allowing him to see them in their entirety and that he was going to travel to a secure location to view them. Now that Leckey has access to the documents, the inquests into the killings could be held in 2009. The chief coroner was forced to abandon the inquests during the nineties after a previous chief constable refused him access to the Stalker and Sampson reports.
Mr Leckey said that once he had read the documents it would allow him to work out what scope the inquests will follow, but accepted the process could stall again. Mr Leckey is banned from showing the documents to anyone else, including lawyers representing the families of the dead men, without Sir Hugh Orde’s agreement.
Families of the men have welcomed the step forward but added they fear Sir Hugh may apply for public interest immunity certificates to prevent the disclosure of sensitive documents. Tommy Carroll, brother of one of the dead men, said: “We would consider this announcement today to be a very positive development after all these years - it didn’t have to take so long."
The family of Tighe appealed for his inquest to proceed as quickly as possible so his elderly parents can hear what happened before it’s too late. The Tighe family's solicitor, Paddy Moriarty, said the family is “somewhat suspicious” of further delays.
“On a human level, Michael Tige was the youngest of the six people here," Mr Moriarty said.
"His parents are now elderly and would be concerned that if there are going to be inquests eventually held that they would be plagued by delays for a number of years." Mr Stalker was unavailable for comment.
Copyright, Billy Briggs, 2008. www.billybriggs.co.uk
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