Northern Ireland

Inquest rules SAS 'justified' in shooting dying IRA man

The scene of the shooting in 1990
Image caption The IRA men were shot more than 30 times at an isolated shed near Loughgall

An inquest jury has ruled that an SAS soldier was justified in shooting an IRA man as he lay dying on the ground.

Dessie Grew was shot dead alongside fellow IRA man Martin McCaughey in County Armagh in October 1990.

The pair, who were both armed with AK47 rifles, were shot more than 30 times when the SAS unit opened fire at isolated farm buildings near Loughgall.

The ruling is thought to be the first 'shoot to kill' verdict in Northern Ireland in 30 years.

The deaths caused controversy in Northern Ireland when it was revealed that neither of the IRA men had fired a shot during the incident, prompting claims that the SAS had opened fire on the men without making an attempt to arrest them.


The inquest, which opened in March, examined the cause of the men's deaths and the planning and control of the SAS operation - including claims that Mr Grew had been shot twice as he lay mortally wounded on the floor of a mushroom shed.

The County Armagh farm was believed to have been under surveillance on the night of 9 October 1990 and the SAS fired more than 70 rounds in the incident.

The Detail news website reported that Dessie Grew had been shot 22 times with wounds to his heart, lungs, liver, kidney, ribcage and diaphragm while Martin McCaughey was shot 10 times.

During the case, an SAS witness identified only as 'Soldier D' admitted opening fire on Mr Grew while he was on the ground.

However, he insisted his actions been justified, claiming the IRA man had made a noise as the SAS entered the shed and he believed the soldiers' lives were in danger.


Reaching its verdict after hearing weeks of evidence, the jury ruled that that the SAS had used "reasonable force" during the operation and that the IRA men's own actions had contributed to their deaths.

"Mr Grew and Mr McCaughey put their lives in danger by being in the area of the sheds in the vicinity of a stolen car, which was expected to be used in terrorist activity," the verdict stated.

"They were both armed with guns, wearing gloves and balaclavas and were approaching soldiers who believed that their lives were in immediate danger."

The men's families had campaigned for an inquest to be held for more than 20 years.

During the case, their barrister said that the families accepted that that both men had been on what was described as 'active service' for the IRA and were therefore liable to arrest.

However they argued that the shooting of the two men as they lay dying on the ground was evidence of a shoot-to-kill policy.

Under attack

The Detail reported that the jury could not agree on whether the SAS had attempted to arrest the IRA men.

However, they ruled that the soldiers were justified in opening fire as they thought the IRA men had moved towards their positions and they believed they were under attack.

"We cannot be unanimous on the balance of probabilities whether or not there was an opportunity to attempt arrest in accordance with the Yellow Card (British Army rules on soldiers opening fire) prior to the soldiers feeling compromised.

"However, once the soldiers felt compromised we agree that there was no other reasonable course of action," the verdict said.

The coronor, Brian Sherrard, praised the Grew and McCaughey families for the dignity they had shown throughout the inquest.

Dessie Grew was 37 at time of his death. His older brother Seamus had been shot dead by the police in 1982.

Twenty-three-year-old Mr McCaughey was a former Sinn Fein councillor.

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