Concern over army Inquiry: Shot man’s family worried
The veil of secrecy which has surround an enquiry claimed to have been carried out by the British Army and R.U.C. into the case of the 27-year-old mentally retarded man shot dead by British soldiers near Benburb, Co. Tyrone, on June 15 last, is causing serious concern to the relatives of the dead man and the public representatives.
The man, John Patrick Cunningham, was shot in a field near his home at Carrickaness by soldiers who were patrolling the area at the time. Following the shooting the army issued conflicting statements regarding the death. In their first statement they said he had been shot when he emerged from bushes and appeared to be carrying a gun. Some hours later this statement was contradicted by one that said he had refused to halt and ran off across the field. Local people, however, rejected the army’s explanation for the killing, and pointed out that Mr. Cunningham was well known to the particular army unit, who have been operating in the area for some time, and were aware that he was mentally retarded and was afraid of soldiers.
This fear stemmed from the fact that some months prior to his death, Mr. Cunningham had been badly beaten up by soldiers near his home, and was only saved from further ill-treatment by a local doctor who accidentally arrived on the scene and took Mr. Cunningham away from the soldiers. Following the shooting, troops threw a cordon around the field, and refused to allow anyone to approach the body for almost three hours. It was only when Fr. Dermot McNeice, Prior of the Servite Priory in Benburb, arrived at the scene and insisted on going to the body that positive identification was made.
On the day of the shooting Mr. Seamus Mallon, the S.D.L.P. member for the area, visited the scene and called for an immediate public inquiry into the shooting. Although his request was refused, the army promised that an inquiry would be held and the facts made known. Since then, both the R.U.C and the army have remained silent regarding the outcome of the investigation. The army stated that the matter was one for the police, and the police in turn said the army was responsible.
Last night, Mr. Mallon who is also chairman of the S.D.L.P. Parliamentary Party, called for an immediate announcement of a date for an inquest into Mr Cunningham’s death.
He said it was over three months since the shooting and neither he, nor the relatives of the dead man, were prepared to wait for up to two years for the inquest which was the length of time that had elapsed before the authorities held inquests into deaths resulting from similar incidents.
Mr. Mallon also demanded that the authorities clarify immediately what type of inquiry had been held; who was holding the inquiry, and what the findings of the promised inquiry had been. He further stated that if the inquiry was found not to have been carried out in an impartial manner, then the confidence and faith of members of the public in the law would be further diminished. Mr. Mallon also said that another factor which demanded that the inquest he held without further delay was the fact that the regiment involved is due to leave Armagh in September after completing their tour of duty in the North. He concluded by saying that the police had a duty to ensure that all those involved in the shooting were available for cross examination by a solicitor when the inquest was held.