Relatives of Gibraltar IRA trio get pounds 40,000

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The Independent Online

The Government has paid almost pounds 40,000 in legal costs to relatives of the three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in1988.

The sum, believed to have been paid on Christmas Eve, was paid in line with a direction from the European Court of Human Rights issued in September which ruled the so-called "Death on the Rock" killings breached the European Convention of Human Rights.

Defiance of the ruling on costs would have led to an international legal confrontation since Britain would have been in direct contravention of an internationally binding ruling.

The judgment drew a furious response from the Government when it was announced in September. Ministers refused to confirm that they would comply with the order to pay the pounds 38,000 costs involved, indicating that the matter would be carefully considered before a decision was made.

While awarding costs, the European court said that the payment of damages, however, would not be appropriate since the three killed - Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann - had been intent on planting a bomb.

At the time the families of the three dead IRA members hailed the result as a victory, while the outcome was clearly embarrassing to the Government. The case was regarded as a landmark in international law since it was the first time the court, which has no connection with the European Community, had ruled on the use of lethal force.

But the fact that the decision was reached on a 10-9 vote of judges, with the court's president among the dissenters, illustrated how difficult and controversial the case was.

Ministers described it at the time as incredible, extraordinary and beyond comprehension that the Strasbourg-based court should have concluded that the SAS had used more force than was absolutely necessary.

A spokeswoman for the MoD, which footed the costs bill, last night denied that the Government had planned to defy the court ruling.

She added that the payment of legal costs was not an admission of guilt, simply an act of compliance.