'vindication' | 

Shooting of Derry mother Kathleen Thompson by soldier in 1971 unjustified, inquest rules

Setting out a summary of her findings, Coroner Judge Sandra Crawford found that a soldier, known as Soldier D, was responsible for her death
Kathleen Thompson.

Kathleen Thompson.

Kathleen Thompson pictured with her husband and six children.

Kathleen Thompson pictured with her husband and six children.

Allan PrestonBelfast Telegraph

The family of a Derry mother of six who was shot dead by a soldier in 1971 have welcomed the findings of an inquest today.

Kathleen Thompson (47) was killed on November 6, 1971, in the back garden of her home in the Creggan area during an army search of her neighbour’s house.

Setting out a summary of her findings, Coroner Judge Sandra Crawford found that a soldier, known as Soldier D, was responsible for her death.

She also dismissed his claims that he believed he was under fire at the time and had acted in self-defence, calling his evidence “contrived and self-serving”.

A statement on behalf of Mrs Thompson’s family has said the findings were a vindication that the inquest system worked.

Kathleen Thompson pictured with her husband and six children.

Kathleen Thompson pictured with her husband and six children.

Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane solicitors said this was in total contrast to the Government’s legislation to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

“This is yet another clear illustration that the inquest system is capable of achieving the truth for families seeking answers as to how their loved ones died,” he said.

“The soldier responsible for Mrs Thompson’s death gave evidence over the course of four days.

“He persistently claimed not to have a clear recollection of the only time in which he has ever fired lived rounds in anger and killed someone.

“It is only by testing the witness’ account given immediately after the event using the independently objective ballistics, pathology and other witness evidence can a proper assessment of the witness’ credibility be reached.”

He added: “Any person who thinks that the proper circumstances of the how Kathleen Thompson died could be established through the mechanisms suggested by the current government’s legacy proposals and reliant upon the cooperation and honesty of those responsible for the death, is frankly living on another planet.”

The Government’s legacy plans intend to focus on truth recovery over prosecutions or new inquests, but this has been roundly rejected by victims groups and political parties in Northern Ireland.

In the inquest findings, Mrs Thompson was described as a housewife who was married to Patrick Thompson, a boiler maker and welder.

Her six children at the time were David (18), Pat (16, now deceased), Billy (15), Mary Louise who was known as Minty (11), Patricia (9) and Ernie (7).

The coroner said Mrs Thompson was shot and fatally wounded around midnight on November 6, 1971, in the back garden of her home at 129 Rathlin Drive in Derry.

The cause of death was ruled to be a bullet wound to the chest from a high-velocity shot fired by Soldier D. He and other soldiers had been withdrawing from the area at the time.

"Kathleen Thompson was unarmed and in her garden in order to bang a bin lid or another object to alert neighbours as to the presence of soldiers in the area,” she said.

"Soldier D did not have an honest belief that a gunshot had been fired from the garden of 129 Rathlin Drive, and that his life and the lives of others were under immediate threat.

"His actions of shooting into a dark garden in a residential area in such circumstances were in breach of the guidance as to deployment of lethal force provided to soldiers in the yellow card.”

She said Soldier D discharged two shots into the rear garden, in circumstances which were “unjustified”. No proper investigation into the death was found to be carried out at the time.

Earlier, the coroner said that Soldier D had maintained he fired two shots after believing he was fired at by a gunman who was in the garden and was therefore under immediate threat.

“I cannot be satisfied to the requisite standard that Soldier D held an honest belief that he was under fire,” the coroner said.

"I find that he did not have an honest belief that there was a gunman and he did not have an honest belief that he had seen muzzle flash and heard gunfire.

"I find that he has presented a contrived and self-serving account where he purported to remember aspects that supported his position, and to forget aspects that would expose him to challenge and question regarding his state of mind, judgement and actions when he fired into 129 Rathlin Drive.

“While I firmly reject his evidence that he had an honest belief that he was being fired on, I take into account his complete want of experience of operations of this nature and of civil disturbance.”

Soldier D gave evidence that he had been in a heightened state at the time.

The coroner said she rejected that he was fired upon, and “in all likelihood that he was frightened”.

"It was more likely than not, that in fear he has overreacted to the noise and activity that was prevalent at the time of his withdrawal by firing shots when there was no objectively perceived credible threat of gunfire.”

She also noted he had fired a further six shots and was the only member to fire any shots.

"I am satisfied that when he fired, he could not have seen Mrs Thompson leaning over and banging a bin lid or other object.

"Soldier D’s actions of shooting into a dark garden in a residential area in such circumstances are plainly contrary to the provisions of the yellow card.”

In conclusion, Judge Crawford expressed her condolences to the Thompson family.

In a statement, the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called the result a “clear vindication” for the family after a long fight for justice.

Speaking from Westminster, ahead of a debate on the Legacy Bill this afternoon, the Foyle MP said the family had been waiting for this day for over 50 years.

“The truth about what happened to a mother of six in the back garden of her own home was delayed for more than 50 years by the institutions of the state but it could never be denied to those who loved Kathleen,” he said.

"They have taken on the full might of the British Government and today, at long last, they have been vindicated.

“Today in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State will make the flawed case for new legislation which would have denied justice to the Thompson family forever. Brandon Lewis will seek support for an end to legacy inquests and investigations, pulling down the shutters on other families desperate to know what happened to their loved ones.”

He said the verdict also served as “the clearest possible demonstration” that the Government proposals were “immoral, unjustifiable and will allow those who committed heinous crimes against people in Ireland to get away with it.”

“Kathleen Thompson’s family shouldn’t have been forced to fight for truth for more than half a century. But in the emotion of this day, I hope they feel some sense of pride that they have done their mother proud. They have certainly done the city of Derry proud. The proper response from the government now would be to withdraw their flawed legislation and listen to the voices of victims who will never support this.”


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