'traumatic' | 

Retired Garda who says he was shot at by British Army to launch ‘attempted murder’ case

Des Fitzgerald was one of three officers whose marked patrol car was hit by gunfire 12 times near Hackballscross

File photo© Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sunday World

A retired Garda is preparing to launch court action over what his legal team describes as "attempted murder" in a gun attack he believes was carried out by the British Army almost 50 years ago.

Des Fitzgerald was one of three officers whose marked patrol car was hit by gunfire in July 1974 near Hackballscross during a gun battle between the IRA and the army.

The three officers managed to escape from the car, which was struck 12 times, before taking cover.

It is believed the three gardai, who were in Co Louth, were fired on by British soldiers, who were on the northern side of the border.

According to the Irish News, Des Fitzgerald is now set to take legal action against the Ministry of Defence, PSNI and Secretary of State.

Mr Fitzgerald had only recently qualified at the time of the incident and posted to the border.

Originally from south Kerry, he retired in 2006 after 32 years of service, and currently lives in Co Meath.

He told how he had been sent to the scene of the gun battle along with his colleagues in the marked car as the IRA, who were in a derelict cottage in Co Louth, and British soldiers who were in the north exchanged shots.

He had been told to move from the middle of the cramped Hillman Avenger Garda car, which was being driven by former Meath GAA star Pat McManus, to behind the driver for comfort.

As high velocity shots shattered the windscreen just moments later, a bullet whizzed between the two officers in the front and hit the seat he had just moved from.

"I was only a recruit, I was only two months out of training,” he has been quoted as saying. “I didn't know what was happening and he put the car into reverse and the next thing the car spun around, they blew the back wheel off it. I got out and ran."

He described how rounds continued to rain down on him as he ran for cover in a nearby cottage.

But the young officer found out the house he had just taken cover in had no back door.

"So I walked out (the front) and there was a little walkway, say it was 20 yards, 15 yards, a little pathway out to a gateway with two pillars on it and just when I got to the gate the pillar on my right hand side blew up," he said.

"Whoever fired the shot blew half the pillar away so I ran back in and said to yer man 'this is crazy'."

He then borrowed a coat owned by the home owner and put it over his uniform.

"I walked up the road and every step I took, I said, 'will this be my last one or will the next one be the last'," he said.

"That was the worst part of it."

The Garda, who described the experience as traumatic, said he was off work sick for around three months

His solicitor Kevin Winters of KRW Law, said this was an “extraordinary attempted murder incident occurring nearly 50 years ago Des was a serving gardai officer when he fired upon by British military personnel”.

"There was never any proper investigation by either police forces in the north and south consistent with many other conflict-related cross border incursions the whole incident was played down,” Mr Winters was quoted as saying in the Irish News.

Mr Winters said he has been in touch with authorities on both sides of the border.

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