The judge said Timothy Hanley, 28, a constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, had committed a tragic error, but no crime, in shooting Kevin McGovern. Mr Justice Nicholson said PC Hanley had mistakenly and honestly acted in self-defence when he shot Mr McGovern in the back on 29 September 1991.
The student from Cookstown, Co Tyrone, was shot dead as he fled from police who were attempting to capture an IRA hit-team spotted mounting an ambush in the area.
PC Hanley gave a sigh of relief when Mr Justice Nicholson gave the 'not guilty' verdict at the end of a 79-page judgment. The judge said Mr McGovern and his friends, Gary Cushley and Barry McGinn, had set off for a disco at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown just as IRA terrorists were spotted nearby.
The three friends then passed near to a checkpoint 'at the very moment when the police were afraid of being attacked'. Police suspecting them of being part of the terrorist team, called on them to stop or they would open fire.
After warning shots from PC Hanley, Mr McGovern's two friends 'stopped dead', but he ran on followed by the policeman who fired a second burst before shooting the student as he turned to glance back.
Last night the RUC said PC Hanley was no longer under suspension and he would be returning to duty.Reuse content