Belfast trooper gets 10 years for gun attack

Another soldier is jailed for a shooting incident in Northern Ireland a s the Government says paramilitaries' threat is reduced
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A soldier who fired 20 shots into a crowd of mourners outside the home of a dead IRA man in Belfast was yesterday jailed for 10 years.

Two of the rifle shots fired by Trooper Andrew Brian Clarke, 27, hit a well-known senior republican activist, Eddie Copeland, seriously wounding him. The court heard that after using up his 20-shot magazine, Clarke attempted to reload, but was disarmed by colleagues.

Clarke, who is from Merseyside, and was serving with the 9th/12th Lancers, was given an additional sentence for possessing a rifle with intent to endanger life.

The incident happened in the republican Ardoyne district in Belfast, just days after 10 people were killed in the IRA bombing of a fish shop on the city's Shankill Road.

A number of people were clustered around the home of the IRA bomber Thomas Begley, who had died in the premature explosion, when a security force patrol passed near by.

Clarke, who was standing in the back of an Army landrover providing "top cover" for the patrol, fired at the crowd from a distance of 40 to 50 metres.

Passing sentence, Lord Justice Carswell said the inference from the facts was overwhelming and that Clarke had intended to kill Mr Copeland, whose photograph had been shown to troops before they went on patrol. The judge added: "This was not a planned orpremeditated attack, but one done on the spur of the moment prompted by an uncontrollable impulse."

Defence counsel told the court that Clarke had said he pulled the trigger on impulse and argued that he had not intended to kill, adding: "The Crown haven't in fact shown that there was a full-blooded intention to kill Eddie Copeland."

Crown counsel said the incident was an unjustified and unprovoked attack on a crowd which had not constituted a threat. The court was told that during the firing Clarke was heard to say "I shot the bastard". The soldier was later described as being in a state of shock, ashen-faced and tearful.

A police doctor gave evidence that Clarke, who had been in the Army for six years and on his second tour of duty in Northern Ireland, told him he "felt generally pissed off at seeing players [republican activists]" walking the streets.

The judge said it was possible to understand such feelings of frustration and resentment, but Clarke's action could not be condoned.

"There can be no excuse for a soldier to allow his frustration to boil over, lose his head and shoot at people in the street when there was no possible justification in law," the judge said.

nJudgment is to be handed down tomorrow in the case of two Scots Guards charged with the murder of an unarmed teenager shot in north Belfast in 1992.