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Inquest to be held into deaths of IRA men and civilian in SAS operation

Inquest to be held into deaths of IRA men and civilian in SAS operation

New inquests are to be held into the deaths of eight IRA men and a civilian shot dead by the SAS almost 30 years ago.

The Government had asked the Advocate General for Northern Ireland Jeremy Wright QC to take the decision on whether new probes should be undertaken into the controversial shootings at Loughgall, Co Armagh in May 1987.

The SAS intercepted the IRA unit as they launched an attack on a police station in the village.

Civilian Anthony Hughes, 36, was killed after being caught up in the gunfire.

Mr Wright, who is a law officer independent of Government, said: "Following careful consideration of a huge amount of material I have come to the decision that new inquests into the Loughgall deaths are justified.

"The new inquests will establish who has died, and how, when and where the death occurred. The Coroners Service for Northern Ireland will now take this forward."

Controversy has long surrounded the ambush with claims the SAS team, reputed to be around 36 strong, continued to fire on a number of the IRA men with heavy machine guns as they lay wounded on the ground.

The IRA members killed were Jim Lynagh, 32; Padraig McKearney, 32; Gerard O'Callaghan, 29; Tony Gormley, 25; Eugene Kelly, 25; Patrick Kelly, 32; Seamus Donnelly, 19; and Declan Arthurs, 21.

Northern Ireland's senior law officer, Attorney General John Larkin QC, usually makes the decisions on ordering new inquests in the region.

However, the Loughgall case was referred to the Advocate General as it was deemed to touch on issues of national security - matters which are not devolved to Stormont.

Mr Wright said he had informed the bereaved relatives, the Coroners' Service and Mr Larkin of his decision.

Conservative MP Mr Wright is also the Attorney General for England and Wales. His position as Advocate General for Northern Ireland is a separate role.

It is uncertain when the new inquests will get under way as the Coroners' Service in Northern Ireland is already struggling to deal with a backlog of legacy related cases.

Mairead Kelly, whose brother Patrick Kelly was one of those shot dead, said: "We welcome the decision to have new inquests into the Loughgall Ambush in which my brother was killed by the SAS.

"It is a decision that should have been taken here in Northern Ireland and not in London and not by a British politician. We hope that the inquests can be established promptly and that the families of the victims and the coroner are provided with all the information they need. We are a step further toward the truth, justice and accountability we seek on behalf of our loved ones."

Solicitor Darragh Mackin, from Belfast-based firm KRW LAW, which is representing Loughgall relatives, also welcomed the move.

"We now request that the Coroner's Office for Northern Ireland is granted appropriate funding to undertake these inquests - and all other conflict-related legacy inquests - as soon as possible and a timetable for these inquests to be set," he said.

"Further we will be seeking assurances regarding the disclosure of evidence. We remain concerned that this decision was taken by an English law officer who is an elected politician and not the Attorney General for Northern Ireland. Clarity on this matter remains so that it can be avoided in the future and such important decisions are taken in Belfast and not London."