Historic ruling that failed to change opinions

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The Independent Online
As the British government vociferously condemned the European Court judgment yesterday, reaction from other quarters was polarised.

Barra McGrory, solicitor for the families of the three IRA members shot dead by the Special Air Service in 1988, described the judgment as "tremendous". "It has been a long road and it is something of enormous significance to have a government found guilty of the taking of the right to life unnecessarily," he said.

"That in itself has to be something of the utmost importance and the UK government will now have to look very closely at the whole incident and it is now perhaps time for a full judicial inquiry within this jurisdiction - something we have always been denied."

Niall Farrell, brother of Mairead Farrell, added: "It is now clear to the world that the British government has blood on its hands."

Sinn Fein welcomed what it described as a "landmark decision", but added that it was "only the tip of the iceberg in relation to Britain's long, dirty war in Ireland".

"While British forces have killed almost 400 people, many of them children, most of those responsible were never brought to justice," a spokesman said.

Dr Joe Hendron, Social Democratic and Labour Party MP for West Belfast, also welcomed the finding of the European Court of Human Rights, adding that "all reasonable people knew that these three young people had been summarily executed".

The fact that they had been on a mission with the intention of killing soldiers did not change his view. "They had been followed by the SAS, they could have been arrested or at worst wounded. They were summarily executed and that was wrong," he said.

The human rights group Liberty also welcomed the judgment. A spokeswoman said its significance lay in the fact that it put the responsibility firmly at the door of the Government, for failing sufficiently to prepare the operation, rather than with the soldiers themselves.

Meanwhile, Carmen Proetta, a key witness in ITV's Death on the Rock television documentary on the killings, said from her Gibraltar home today: "I am not at all surprised by this verdict."

She was leaving yesterday for Ireland to pursue a law suit against former Sunday Times editor, Andrew Neil. It relates to comments he is alleged to have made about her in a programme by the Irish broadcasting service RTE in 1993.

Former Irish justice minister, Ray Burke, said the ruling was "a legal milestone with far-reaching implications" and accused Britain of "resorting to terrorism from time to time".

Mr Burke, now foreign affairs spokesman for the Fianna Fail opposition party in Dublin, said: "The European court did not believe the lies, the excuses, the smears and the cover-up that emanated from the highest level."

But there were equally strong reactions from those who opposed the judgment. Ulster Unionist security spokesman, Ken Maginnis, was among those who reacted furiously, accusing the court of writing a "terrorists' charter".

The MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said: "Coming at this time, the judgment is an absolute mockery. In many ways it is an example of judges sitting detached in Strasbourg writing a terrorists' charter. I hope the Government will fight to the last ditch against any obligation imposed on it to pay compensation ... murderers should not be compensated, nor should their families."

This was reiterated by Tory MP Terry Dicks. "The vast majority of British people would like to give a medal to the SAS who killed those terrorists," he said. "They certainly wouldn't criticise them for what they did."

There was a more muted reaction from the Irish government. A spokesman said that they accepted the judgment and it would have to be "studied carefully". He added that "proper lessons" would have to be drawn from it for "guidance in such anti-terrorist operations".

There was a similar response from Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, who said: "It is incumbent upon the British government, whether they like it or not, to observe both the letter and the spirit of this decision."

`It's incomprehensible that the European Court could

have reached this


Michael Heseltine,

Deputy Prime Minister

`It is incumbent upon the Government to observe both the letter and the spirit of this decision today'

Jack Straw,

shadow Home Secretary

`In many ways it is an example of judges sitting detached in Strasbourg writing a terrorists' charter'

Ken Maginnis,

Ulster Unionist MP

`It is now clear to the world that the British Government has blood on its hands'

Niall Farrell,

brother of Mairead

`They could have been arrested or ... wounded. They were summarily executed and that was wrong'

Joe Hendron,

MP for West Belfast