Unarmed mother was shot by soldier in garden in ‘unjustified’ circumstances

The soldier who shot Kathleen Thompson did not have an honest belief his life and the lives of others were under immediate threat, a coroner said.

Kathleen Thompson was a mother of six at the time of her death in 1971 (PA)
Kathleen Thompson was a mother of six at the time of her death in 1971 (PA)

A mother-of-six was shot dead by a soldier in her back garden in circumstances which were “unjustified”, a coroner has ruled.

Kathleen Thompson, a 47-year-old housewife, was killed by a bullet to the chest in Londonderry on November 6 1971, an inquest heard.

Two bullets were fired by someone identified only as soldier D into her garden in Rathlin Drive, Creggan, as he and others were withdrawing from the area, Judge Sandra Crawford said.

She said Mrs Thompson was unarmed and had been in her back garden banging a bin lid or other object to alert neighbours to the presence of soldiers in the area.

Soldier D did not have an honest belief...that his life and the lives of others were under immediate threat

Judge Sandra Crawford

The shooting of Ms Thompson, whose children were aged between seven and 18 at the time, breached guidance on the deployment of lethal force provided to soldiers, the coroner said.

Giving a summary of her findings on Wednesday, the coroner said: “Her death was caused by a high-velocity shot fired by soldier D from a position on Southway, Derry, as he and other soldiers were withdrawing from the area.

“Soldier D did not have an honest belief that a gunshot had been fired from the garden of 129 Rathlin Drive and that his life and the lives of others were under immediate threat.”

She said “shooting into a dark garden in a residential area in such circumstances” breached guidance on soldiers’ use of lethal force.

She found that the soldier had fired two shots into Mrs Thompson’s back garden “in circumstances which were unjustified”.

David and Erne Thompson outside Laganside Courts in Belfast for a previous inquest hearing (Rebecca Black/PA)

Sitting at the Laganside Courts complex in Belfast, Judge Crawford said soldier D had presented a “contrived and self-serving account” of what happened.

She said that “in all likelihood he was frightened” and had “overreacted to the noise and activity which was prevalent at the time of his withdrawal” from the area.

But she said being frightened or panicking “does not begin to justify” the force used by the soldier, who fired a further six shots.

The coroner said no proper investigation had been carried out into the death.

A previous inquest into Mrs Thompson’s death, held in 1972, returned an open verdict.

A new inquest was ordered in September 2013 and began in 2018.

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