. Socialist Party archives - Gibraltar Inquest:- SAS ‘shoot to kill’ is now legal, Oct. 1988
Militant Irish Monthly, October 1988, No. 135

Gibraltar Inquest:- SAS ‘shoot to kill’ is now legal

By a South Belfast Young Socialist

The inquest into the deaths of the three IRA members in Gibraltar has been a whitewash. By a majority of 9 to 2 the jury returned a verdict of lawful killing.

Divisions within the jury demonstrate that at least two of them did not accept the SAS story. The ‘evidence’, in the drilled professional performances of the SAS, contradicted the evidence given by the civilian eyewitnesses.

The key question is whether the SAS ever intended to arrest the three IRA members, or, as the evidence suggests, to operate a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. The role of the SAS is to wait for hard intelligence on a forthcoming IRA action and then to ambush them before they strike. The British army manuals describe a successful ambush as one in which all enemy soldiers are killed.

In Gibraltar, the SAS say they acted on the hard intelligence that the car, parked by Sean Savage, contained a bomb. They also claim that they were working under the direction of the Gibraltar police commissioner. Its instructions were; to arrest the IRA members, disarm them and defuse the ‘bomb’. But the evidence clearly contradicts any ‘arrest policy’.

Spanish police had first alerted the British that an IRA unit was working in Spain in November 1987 and they had the trio under surveillance from March 4th until they crossed the border into Gibraltar. According to the Spanish, the British in Gibraltar had received minute-by-minute details of the Renault Sean savage drove down the coast road, and knew precisely the minute it crossed into Gibraltar.

But much to the anger of the Spanish police, the Gibraltar commissioner, the SAS and senior British officials denied at the inquest that this close surveillance had taken place. A senior British intelligence witness was asked during the inquest; ‘If your primary concern was the protection of the people of Gibraltar, why was the suspect car allowed into Gibraltar at all?’ The witness replied: ‘ The answer is that the car was not seen crossing the border… these people were not under surveillance.’

The Gibraltar policeman whose job it was to monitor the IRA crossing the border at first denied and then had to admit that the knew the name on the false passport that Sean savage would be using to cross the border. He also knew what he looked like.

What is undeniable is that the police had to allow the three IRA members into Gibraltar, and that they didn’t slip in ‘unnoticed’. They had to allow a car, with a supposed bomb cross the border because they didn’t have the authority to shoot the IRA members in Spain.

Car ‘bomb’

What also appears unclear is the SAS reaction to the car they believed to contain the bomb. If they believed there was a bomb why didn’t they move in to defuse it after it had been abandoned by McCann, Farrell and Savage? Soldier 6, when asked at the inquest why he hadn’t attempted to neutralise the bomb replied: ‘I did not think of that’. This is hardly convincing coming from an explosives expert.

The reaction of the Gibraltar is also surprising. They were made aware of the possibility of the bomb but made no attempt to evacuate the area. They claim that they didn’t have enough men to both clear the area and make the arrest. However, it would have already been evident to police at this stage that responsibility for the arrest was to be handed over to the SAS.

What also emerged in the inquest is that both police and SAS threw away several opportunities to arrest the IRA members. At one point Sean Savage even ‘brushed against’ one of the two SAS men who were following Mairead Farrell and Danny McCann.

The claim by the SAS that the three IRA members made aggressive gestures when they realised they were being followed was also called into question. It is an extraordinary coincidence that all three, even though they were unarmed, made the same aggressive gestures that led to their execution!

If a warning to stop was given, as was claimed by the Gibraltar police, then surely the instinct of an unarmed person when confronted by armed men, would be to surrender. If a warning wasn’t given before the SAS opened fire then how can the intention have been to arrest?

The accounts of eyewitnesses indicate that McCann and Farrell had their hands raised when they were shot, not necessarily in a gesture of surrender but at least in a gesture of self-defence. The attempts to discredit one eyewitness and changing of his story by another witness only creates further uncertainty. Kenneth Asquez claimed in a TV documentary that he saw an SAS man with his foot on Sean Savage’s neck shooting at him as he lay on the ground.

But on the 14th day of the inquest he claimed that he had been pressurised into making this statement and in fat saw nothing. Even the coroner was confused as to how Asquez could relay facts in that documentary which only later came out in the inquest and then still claim that he had seen nothing.

Quite deliberately the inquest presented confusing and contradictory evidence. Nonetheless, for the sake of the inquest, the main witness who had claimed that Savage was shot on the ground was eliminated.

The SAS deny they shot any of the three while they were on the ground even though the pathologist’s report shows that in the ‘frenzied attack’ on Savage, two and possibly four bullets were fired as he lay on the ground.

From the very beginning of this inquest it was clear that all facts were never going to emerge. The pathologist reported that he had to work alone on the autopsy, which was ‘unusual’ for this type of case. He also stated that he hadn’t been given access to the ballistics report or the reports on the forensic examination of the IRA members clothing. Nor had he been able to X-ray the bodies that he examined.

All this no doubt made the pathologist’s job harder, which can only be to the advantage of the SAS and their political masters. But this is not the first time that evidence of an SAS murder has been withheld.

During the ambush of the IRA men at Loughgall in May last year Anthony Hughes, a passing motorist, was shot dead by the SAS and his brother was seriously wounded. To date he family have not been given his car or his personal belongings and the family has not been given any government compensation for this SAS ‘mistake’. There is no doubt that had the incident taken place in front of British tourists we would have seen a different reaction to the case.

Last month the state rejected an attempt to review the inconclusive inquest into the killing of three Strabane in by the SAS in February 1985. In November the inquest will begin into the deaths of three unarmed IRA men shot dead by the RUC in Armagh six years ago.

There is little doubt that such an inquest like the one in Gibraltar will be a whitewash, probably giving the shoot to kill policy the new name of ‘justifiable homicide.’

The labour movement must intervene on these issues. It is only when workers unite and put pressure on the Tory government, political masters of the RUC and the SAS, that these brutal tactics can be ended.

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