Subscribe to the Irish News




Book Reviews
& Book Forum

Search / Archive
Back to 10/96





Shooting similar to Gibraltar IRA deaths

(Marie Louise McCrory, Irish News)

The shooting dead of a suspected suicide bomber in London yesterday bears similarities to the controversial deaths of three IRA members in Gibraltar in 1988.

The British authorities said west Belfast trio Mairead Farrell (31), Dan McCann (30) and Sean Savage (23) were on a bombing mission, and were unarmed when they were shot dead on the Mediterranean island by SAS soldiers.

The killings were later found to have been unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights.

It was claimed that soldiers had shot at the IRA members despite two of them having their hands in the air in a gesture of surrender.

However, the SAS team involved insisted that the trio were given an opportunity to surrender.

The killings sparked a storm of controversy, and allegations persist that the security forces at that time were operating a 'shoot to kill' policy against IRA suspects.

Relatives of the trio shot dead, as well as human rights campaigners, have argued they should have been arrested rather than killed.

In a statement the IRA admitted that the three had been on active service.

The British government claimed the trio had planned to detonate a car bomb near British army personnel.

Days after the shootings Spanish police in Marbella discovered 140lb of Semtex explosive and 200 rounds of ammunition in a car reported to have been rented by Mairead Farrell in the name of Katherine Smith.

Farrell, from the Stewartstown Road was shot five times while Clonard man Savage was shot 16 times.

McCann, a married father-of-two from the Kashmir Road area was shot four times.

Spanish and British security forces were said to have been aware of the IRA operation for months and the SAS unit is believed to have been in Gibraltar for nine days before.

On March 6, the three had left a car where members of the Royal Anglican Regimental band would assemble for a changing of the guard ceremony two days later.

After leaving the car Farrell and McCann were confronted and shot by an SAS unit.

Savage was shot in the back and was shot again as he lay on the ground.

Eyewitness accounts varied wildly from those given by the SAS soldiers.

At the inquest, the soldiers claimed they had shot in self-defence.

They said they had fired because the trio had been about to press a remote control button on a car bomb or because the three had made sudden movements.

However, eyewitness Carmen Proetta differed.

She said SAS soldiers arrived in a Gibraltar police car, screeched to a halt, leapt over a barrier and, without warning, began firing at McCann and Farrell.

During media interviews and in a sworn affidavit, Mrs Proetta insisted the couple had their hands up in a gesture of surrender when the undercover soldiers started firing.

The deaths prompted massive controversy.

In April 1989, Amnesty International and the National Council for Civil Liberties called for a judicial review into the three killings.

An investigation by the European Commission on Human Rights found that Britain had used lawful force.

However, in September 1995, the European Court of Human Rights was said to have caused anger in British government circles when it ruled that the Belfast trio had been unlawfully killed.

The court found that the deaths of McCann, Farrell and Savage had been in breach of article two of the human rights convention which protects the right to live.

At the joint funerals of the Gibraltar three on March 16, loyalist Michael Stone shot and killed three people.

Thomas McErlean, John Murray and IRA member Caoimhin MacBradaigh were killed in the gun and grenade attack in Milltown Cemetery.

Three days later, British soldiers Derek Wood and David Howes were killed at MacBradaigh's funeral.

July 25, 2005

This article appeared first in the July 23, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News