Tory anger as European Court condemns Gibraltar killings

Britain to review participation in human rights convention after `ludicrous' ruling

The Government was last night reviewing its support for the European Convention on Human Rights, after a Strasbourg court ruling condemned the SAS killing of three IRA terrorists on Gibraltar in 1988.

Downing Street reacted with incredulity and anger, dismissing the judgment as "defying common sense".

By the narrowest of margins, a vote of 10-9, the court ruled that the killing of Daniel McCann, Sean Savage and Mairead Farrell, was unnecessary, that they could and should have been arrested, and that international conventions had been breached by the use of excessive force. However, it cleared the Government, the SAS soldiers and the security services of operating a shoot-to-kill policy.

The judges refused to compel the Government to order compensation to the families of the three, as it would normally do, because they were terrorists engaged on a bombing mission. However, they ordered the Government to pay the families' pounds 38,700 legal costs.

Last night a question mark hung over whether the Government would agree to pay up - even though it appeared determined to ignore other implications of the ruling - and to do so risks the humiliation of being expelled by the other treaty signatories. Although govern- ments can dismiss, or "derogate" from, European Court security rulings, they are forbidden to do so when Article 2 - the right to life - is breached.

Senior Government sources confirmed that John Major and key ministers will review Britain's support for the European Convention on Human Rights. Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, refused to rule out withdrawing from the convention but said the Government did not want to "whet appetites or slam doors in the immediate anger that flows from decisions of this sort". He added: "There are a whole range of complex legal and wider political issues which governments rightly consider collectively."

As a founder signatory Britain is unlikely to withdraw, as it wants to use the convention to curb human rights abuses in the independent states emerging from the former Soviet Union. That would be undermined if Britain pulled out.

Mr Heseltine, referring to the court ruling, said: "We shall do nothing. We will pursue our right to fight terrorism to protect innocent people where we have jurisdiction, and we will not be swayed or deterred in any way by the ludicrous decisions of the Court."

While ministers hoped the ruling would not have any lasting impact on the Irish peace process, it provoked a furious clash between Mr Heseltine, and Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman.

Mr Straw insisted that it was "incumbent" on the Government, as a signatory to the convention, to accept the ruling of the court. Mr Heseltine accused him of supporting a verdict which sent a "triumphant signal" to terrorists. However, Mr Straw immediately threatened legal action for "a disgraceful slur".

An estimated 35 out of 76 judgments by the European Court of Human Rights have gone against the Government, largely because the convention is not incorporated into British law, and complainants therefore have to turn to Strasbourg for alleged breaches.

Yesterday's ruling - an unusual reversal of an earlier decision of the European Commission - was regarded as a landmark in international law, as it was the first time the Court has ruled on the use of lethal force and the right to life.

The IRA trio were brought down in a hail of bullets as they headed towards the Spanish border on what turned out to be a reconnaissance trip.

The Government, the security services and the SAS men who killed them have always maintained that they believed the terrorists were about to explode a bomb. In the event, the three were unarmed and no bomb was found on the Rock, although explosives were later discovered in Spain.

The killings immediately re-opened claims that the Government operated a shoot-to-kill policy.

The families of the dead were delighted by yesterday's decision, proclaiming it as a vindication of their long campaign. One said it proved the British government were "a bunch of murderers". Relatives said they would press for a full independent judicial inquiry.

Sinn Fein's president Gerry Adams claimed that nearly 400 people had died at the hands of British forces in "Britain's long dirty war in Ireland".

David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, said the decision would strike dismay into all police forces in Europe and could seriously hamper peace-keeping activities and the maintenance of law and order.

Inside

Relatives' joy at verdict; David McKittrick page 2

The long quest for

answers page 3

News Analysis: How the court works page 19

Leading Article page 20

Andrew Marr page 21

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker