Killing of IRA member in 1972 was unjustified, coroner rules

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Judge said soldier breached army rules by opening fire on Seamus Bradley in Derry

Photo of Seamus Bradley
The coroner rejected claims Seamus Bradley sustained injuries through torture or that he was armed with a machine gun Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

The killing of an IRA man shot by a British soldier as he ran across a field in Derry in 1972 was unjustified, a coroner has ruled.

The shooting of Seamus Bradley, 19, in Bishop’s Field in the Creggan area of Derry has long been a matter of dispute.

He was killed by a soldier from the Royal Scots regiment on 31 July during Operation Motorman - an army attempt to gain control of republican areas in Belfast and Derry that had previously been considered no-go zones for the security forces.

The army claimed the teenager was shot while he was in a tree in Bishop’s Field and suffered additional injuries as he fell.

Soldiers alleged he had climbed the tree armed with a machine gun.

His family said he sustained fatal injuries, including a broken neck, while being interrogated and tortured by soldiers.

The coroner, judge Patrick Kinney, rejected both those versions of events as he ruled at Belfast coroner’s court.

He said he was satisfied Bradley was killed by a soldier who got out of a Saracen vehicle and opened fire, but added that he had not been able to confirm the soldier’s identity.

He said that the IRA man could have survived his injuries if he had been properly treated by soldiers and that he would send a report on the case to Northern Ireland’s director of public prosecutions.

“I find that if basic first aid had been provided to Seamus Bradley by the soldiers who collected him, and he was transported swiftly to hospital, he may well have survived his injuries,” he said.

Kinney added that Bradley posed no threat at the time and the soldier had breached the army’s “yellow card” rules of operation in opening fire.

“He was running across an open area of ground. He had no weapon. He was clearly visible and the fact he did not hold a weapon was clearly visible,” he said. “As he was running, an army Saracen entered the same piece of ground. Almost immediately a soldier got out, took up a firing position and fired shots at Seamus Bradley ultimately causing his death.”

“I am satisfied that the soldier who fired the shots could not have held an honest belief that firing on Seamus Bradley was absolutely necessary to protect either himself or others from being killed or seriously injured.”

He said there was no evidence the decision to fire was made “in the heat of the moment or under particular pressure”.

“I am satisfied that the force used was more than absolutely necessary in the circumstances. I therefore conclude that the use of force by the soldier was not justified.”

The coroner said there was no evidence to substantiate family claims of torture.

“There is no evidence of any ill treatment of Seamus Bradley according to the results of the autopsy and the evidence of all the pathologists. In particular there is no evidence of strangulation, a broken neck or the use of barbed wire. There is no evidence that Seamus Bradley was hung on Bishop’s Field or that he was tortured at any stage.”

An original inquest in 1973 returned an open verdict. Northern Ireland’s attorney general ordered a fresh inquest in 2013.

The coroner said the initial investigation of the shooting was “flawed and inadequate”.

Outside the court Bradley’s family welcomed the verdict.