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Northern Ireland: Police u-turn over 1970s ‘death squads’ revelations in Panorama programme welcomed

'It’s a huge relief that the PSNI has reversed its earlier incomprehensible decision'
Patrick Corrigan

Amnesty International has welcomed the announcement from the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) that it has reversed an earlier decision and will now investigate former members of a British Army undercover unit who admitted to having shot unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

Amnesty was extremely critical of an earlier PSNI decision not to conduct an investigation into the activities of the Military Reaction Force (MRF), revealed in a BBC Panorama programme broadcast last November. Panorama identified ten unarmed civilians shot, according to witnesses, by the MRF. These were:

  • Brothers John and Gerry Conway, on the way to their fruit stall in Belfast city centre on 15 April 1972;
  • Aiden McAloon and Eugene Devlin, in a taxi taking them home from a disco in west Belfast on 12 May 1972;
  • Joe Smith, Hugh Kenny, Patrick Murray and Tommy Shaw, on Glen Road on 22 June 1972;
  • Daniel Rooney and Brendan Brennan, on the Falls Road on 27 September 1972.

The police’s initial response to the Panorama programme was simply to review the contents of the broadcast and state that “no crime has been committed” - a move strongly criticised by Amnesty.

Now it has been revealed that PSNI has agreed to conduct a full investigation and that they will attempt to identify the soldiers.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said:

“It’s a huge relief that the PSNI has reversed its earlier incomprehensible decision.

“But the PSNI also need to give a proper public account of its earlier inaction. And the army and security services need to come clean about this dark episode in their past.

“The very idea that secret army death squads were operating on the streets of Belfast in the 1970s is truly chilling and we need a thorough investigation.

“This entire episode once again highlights the need for a comprehensive means of dealing with our troubled past, one that has the confidence of the entire community and can ensure accountability for past human rights abuses and violations.”

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