Families of the three were disappointed that the court's junior body, the European Commission of Human Rights, had concluded the SAS did not use unnecessary force. But they were delighted the European court would hold a full and open hearing.
The commission's opinion was reached by an 11-6 majority, leading Paddy McGrory, a Belfast solicitor representing one family, to claim it was 'hopelessly split' on the issue.
The court may take more than a year to hand down a verdict. The case has been the subject of continuing controversy since the three were killed while planning a bomb attack on British troops in Gibraltar.
Yesterday lawyers for the families were confident they could convince the court the deaths were unnecessary, adding: 'While the majority on the commission was willing to bend over backwards in granting the British authorities every benefit of every conceivable doubt . . . the six dissenters were scathing in rejecting such excessive leeway.' Eleven commission members accepted the assurances of security force witnesses that there had been no premeditated plan to kill rather than to arrest. But six dissenters questioned the authorities' handling of the episode.
The court is not bound by the finding, but has followed the commission's view in a majority of cases in recent years.
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