Guardsmen get life for Belfast murder

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Two soldiers were jailed for life at Belfast Crown Court yesterday after being found guilty of murdering a Catholic teenager in north Belfast in 1992.

Sentencing the two members of the Scots Guards, Lord Justice Kelly suggested that Parliament should consider replacing charges of murder against soldiers with a new offence of culpable homicide. In this he echoed the recent House of Lords judgment in the case of the paratrooper Lee Clegg, whose life sentence for murder ing a teenage joyrider has aroused controversy.

The case against the guardsmen ended last June, but judgment was reserved to await the Lords' verdict in the Clegg case. Earlier this week another soldier was jailed for 10 years for the attempted murder of a republican activist, also in north Belfast.

The two Scots Guardsmen, Mark Wright, 21, and James Fisher, 28, were convicted of the murder of Peter McBride, 18, who was shot twice in the back as he ran away from soldiers in the New Lodge district in September 1992.

The prosecution said Mr McBride had been stopped and thoroughly searched by a four-man army patrol. He was questioned for several minutes but then ran away. The soldiers gave chase and two of them fired fired a total of five shots.

The defence claimed the soldiers opened fire believing McBride was carrying a bomb and their lives were in danger.

Lord Justice Kelly, in a judgment which took five hours to deliver, said he was satisfied Mr McBride had been searched before he was shot, adding that there was no justification for the action of the soldiers.

Saying Fisher had lied to the court and that Wright's evidence was "even more frail", the judge continued: "The image of the case is of a cheeky young man, after an impudent confrontation, running away as hard as he possibly could."

Mr McBride's mother, Jean Smith, said afterwards: "I hope this isn't going to be a Clegg affair. They're found guilty. They've murdered my child."

The Law Society last night echoed Lord Justice Kelly's call for changes in the law. It said the charge of culpable homicide,could replace present charges of both murder and manslaughter, which would then leave the judge free to impose an appropriate sentence.

nThe RUC announced yesterday that no bugging device had been found in rooms at Stormont used for talks between Sinn Fein and the Government. A session of talks was postponed on Thursday after republicans claimed they had detected a listening device.