RUC erred at Troubles’ dawn by firing on flats from armoured cars | Northern Ireland

Police blundered at the dawn of Northern Ireland’s Troubles by using vehicle-mounted machine guns in residential areas and not effectively investigating the ensuing deaths, including that of the first child killed in the conflict, according to a new report.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) committed “significant operational and investigative failures” during the killing of four people in Belfast on 14 and 15 August 1969, the police ombudsman said in a report published on Thursday.

Patrick Rooney, nine, Hugh McCabe, 20, Samuel McLarnon, 27, and Michael Lynch, 28, died after officers opened fire during disturbances in the Divis and Ardoyne areas.

Using vehicle-mounted machine guns in an area of tower blocks such as Divis was “fundamentally flawed” and the RUC failed to effectively investigate any of the deaths, said the ombudsman, Marie Anderson.

Sharon Moore, sister of Patrick Rooney who was 9 when he was killed in Divis flats in 1969, holds a cross with his photo as survivors, victims and relatives of those killed in Troubles-related incidents took part in the ‘Time for Truth’ campaign’s march in Belfast.
Sharon Moore, sister of Patrick Rooney who was nine when he was killed in Divis flats in 1969, holds a cross with his photo during a Time for Truth march in Belfast in 2018. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Rooney was shot in the head while sheltering with five siblings and his parents in their ground-floor flat in the Divis complex.

Fresh forensic scientific examination of ballistic material recovered from the Rooney home confirmed a Browning machine gun mounted on an RUC Shorland vehicle fired the fatal bullet.

However, investigators could not identify which vehicle the shot had been fired from.

“The evidence also indicates that the officers who crewed the Shorlands were insufficiently trained in the use of the Browning machine guns, and that there was a lack of clear instruction as to how the weapons could be used to control public order without risking the lives of innocent bystanders,” said the report.

Lack of evidence means none of the surviving officers linked with the deaths are to face trial.

The ombudsman criticised police marksmen for firing more than 20 shots from the roof of a police station towards the Divis flats. She also faulted the RUC for allocating some guns in a way that prevented linking them to individual officers.

Deputy chief constable Mark Hamilton of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which succeeded the RUC, acknowledged the report.

“Our thoughts today are first and foremost with the families of Patrick Rooney, Hugh McCabe, Samuel McLarnon and Michael Lynch,” he said.

“We respect and acknowledge the hurt and suffering of each of the bereaved families, and we offer our sincerest and heartfelt sympathies to them for the loss they endured.”

So-called legacy cases have bedevilled Northern Ireland’s politics and legal system. Two former army soldiers accused of murdering an Official IRA member in 1972 walked free from court this week after their trial collapsed.

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