Justice Adrian Colton said on April 10 that teenager Manus Deery who was killed by a soldier in Derry in May 1972 was “totally innocent” and did not pose a threat.
Colton, who presided at an inquest into the teenager’s death, ruled the soldier, Private William Glasgow, was unjustified in discharging the round that killed the 15-year-old. Glasgow died in 2001.
“Manus Deery was a totally innocent victim,” he said. “He didn’t pose a threat to soldiers or anyone else.”
Colton said the teenager’s character has been fully vindicated and that he was not a member of any illegal organisation.
Manus Deery was with a group of friends outside a chip shop in the Bogside area of Derry when he was shot by a soldier from a fortified sanger observation post about 200 metres away on the city’s walls. He was struck in the head by fragments of a bullet that ricocheted off a wall.
The day after the incident Glasgow claimed that he had fired at a gunman but missed and hit the wall.
However, Colton said he was unable to determine whether the soldier was under an honest belief that he had seen an armed man because he was unable to question him during the inquest. The only account available from Glasgow was a statement made to Royal Military Police on May 20, 1972.
In that statement, Glasgow said that on May 19, 1972 he was told by a person identified as Soldier B that he had seen a person “armed with a rifle in the trail position” at the rear of the Bogside Inn.
Glasgow said that he “observed the rear of the Bogside Inn, through the telescope, and also saw the male person armed with a rifle” and that this person was “standing inside an archway against the right wall. He was definitely armed with a rifle”.
Glasgow said he then picked up his weapon and fired at the person in question.
Soldier ‘B’ gave evidence at the inquest and on issue of whether or not a gunman was in the area at the time the coroner said: “It is clear that he himself cannot positively say that this was so,” and that Soldier B had little reliable recall of the events and his evidence was of “limited value”.
Colton said his assessment of the evidence was there was no gunman and that neither Deery nor anyone near him was acting in a manner that could reasonably have been perceived as posing a threat of death or injury
“The discharge of the round was unjustified,” he said. “The force used was disproportionate to the threat perceived.”
The coroner said the original investigation of the shooting in 1972 was “flawed and inadequate”.
The original inquest in 1973 returned an open verdict and Glasgow was not prosecuted. Neither Glasgow nor Soldier B appeared before the 1973 inquest and Deery’s family weren’t legally represented.
Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin ordered a new inquest in 2012, but it was delayed.
In 2016, the inquest heard that an RUC Special Branch assessment of Manus Deery found he was not a known terrorist nor was he involved in terrorist activity. There was no lead residue on his hands.
The UK Ministry of Defence acknowledged in 2016 that the shooting was unjustified, and that the Army’s ‘yellow card’ guidelines about when personnel can open fire had been broken.
“The belated acknowledgement by the Ministry of Defence at the closing of this inquest on 21 November 2016 is to be welcomed,” Colton said on Monday.
The killing, which occurred not long after the January 30 Bloody Sunday incident in Derry, is one of the most contentious of the Troubles.
Dealing with the legacy of the Troubles
The issue of legacy cases is a major point of contention between Northern Ireland’s Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party during the current negotiations to reform the devolved government.
The DUP has claimed that 90 percent of Police Service of Northern Ireland legacy workload was focused on alleged Army killings.
Last month, Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK government is concerned that legacy investigations are unbalanced and focus too much on soldiers and police officers.
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire previously called the current legacy investigations unbalanced.
The Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland has rejected the view that there is a disproportionate focus on former British soldiers.
Data obtained by the BBC further challenge the claims: PSNI figures show Army killings account for about 30 percent of legacy investigations.