MURDER ON THE ROCK:
How the British Government got away with murder
by Maxine Williams
First published as a pamphlet in May 1989 by Larkin Publications,
London WC1N 3XX
Transcription & HTML version by
Workers' Web ASCII Pamphlet project for RCG/FRFI
Transcription & HTML version by Workers' Web ASCII Pamphlet project for RCG/FRFI
28 JANUARY 1985 - 6 MARCH 1988
Was studying for his 'A'-levels when imprisoned on remand in 1982 on the word of an informer who subsequently retracted. He joined the IRA when he was seventeen years old.
3 MARCH 1957 - 6 MARCH 1988
Imprisoned in 1976. she took part in the I980 hunger strike. She was Officer Commanding of Republican prisoners in Armagh prison throughout the 1981 hunger strike. Released in 1986, she campaigned actively against strip-searching and returned to IRA duty
30 NOVEMBER 1957 - 6 MARCH 1988
First imprisoned in 1973 and on three subsequent occasions. From 1979-1981 he was in prison 'on the blanket' during the campaign for political status. He was the target of British Army death threats and a loyalist assassination attempt.
DEDICATIONThis booklet is dedicated to the memory of Terry O'Halloran who died on 23 January 1989. Terry's help and political advice were invaluable in writing the booklet, and he also wrote one chapter of it. We are proud to dedicate this work to the memory of a comrade who, all his adult life, fought for solidarity with the Irish people.The Terry O'Halloran Memorial Fund has been established in his honour. It will be used exclusively for the provision of books and other publications for prisoners in gaols in Britain and Ireland for whose rights Terry campaigned so vigorously.
Contributions can be sent to: The Terry O'Halloran Memorial Fund, c/o BCM Box 5909, London WC1N 3XX
Thanks to Gary Clapton who compiled and wrote the appendix on British shoot-to-kill operations in Ireland.
MURDER ON THE ROCK
How the British Government got away with murder
by Maxine Williams
When IRA members Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann and Sean Savage were shot dead by the SAS on a sunny afternoon in Gibraltar their deaths were immediately welcomed by the British government, the Labour Party and the press. They acclaimed the killings as a 'victory' against terrorism. The bodies of the three were flown back to Ireland and there too the enemies of Republicanism hounded them to their graves. The RUC and British Army obstructed the passage of their coffins through the mourning Six Counties. A Loyalist gunman attacked the funerals, killing three people.
In the six months before the inquest into the Gibraltar shootings began the question of whether they had been victims of a British shoot-to-kill operation was debated. The controversy was fuelled by witnesses and evidence flatly contradicting the British version of events. The British government responded with an unparalleled cover-up.
Six months later, when the inquest jury returned its verdict of lawful killing, there was intense relief in Downing Street. Mrs Thatcher's government had meticulously planned and worked to ensure that this was the verdict reached. It is not surprising that they should attach such importance to the Gibraltar inquest. It was one of the rare occasions on which British activity against Irish people had been subjected to such serious international scrutiny.
Had the inquest decided that the three were murdered, the effects for the government and its strategy in Ireland would have been incalculable. Not only would the British government and its forces have been made to account for their murderous actions in Gibraltar, but also the questions that remain unanswered from previous shoot-to-kill operations and the Stalker affair would have been placed at the centre of public debate. The British government simply could not allow this to happen.
Barely had the spent cartridges been gathered from the streets of Gibraltar before the government began its campaign to prevent such a disastrous outcome. The machinery of disinformation swung smoothly into operation. The next day's newspapers were full of the government's story. The Daily Telegraph was typical:
'British soldiers... shot dead three high ranking IRA terrorists... in Gibraltar yesterday, shortly after the gang had planted a massive car bomb... shooting broke out when the three were challenged.'
The government had made sure that the public's first and most significant impression was that three armed IRA members had been shot having just planted a massive bomb.
Only on the day after the shootings did the House of Commons hear Geoffrey Howe admit:
'those killed were subsequently found not to have been carrying arms. The parked car... did not contain an explosive device.'
But first impressions count. The non-existent IRA guns and car bomb formed the first of many layers of distortion used to cover up the one undeniable fact: that three unarmed people who had not planted a bomb had been shot down in a hail of at least 25 bullets in broad daylight on public streets. Howe produced the story that the SAS shot the three because they made threatening movements when challenged.
In the six months before the inquest began, many other layers were added. A special Cabinet committee was set up to ensure that nothing was left to chance: the military and intelligence background to the killings was excluded from the inquest; the media were pressurised; the Spanish government was persuaded to prevent Spanish police attending the inquest; the one civilian injured during the events was paid a reported £10,000 compensation; the date of the inquest was changed to coincide with the parliamentary recess. Anything or anybody that could not be controlled was the object of sustained attack the witnesses with inconvenient testimony, the Death on the Rock television programme, Amnesty international. This is British democracy in operation.
The inquest was the final and most difficult event to control. Even vetted juries are unpredictable, as the two dissenting jurors showed at the inquest. So the British government carefully stacked the odds. The very terms of the inquest precluded the truth from becoming known and the murderers from being revealed. Whilst the M15 and SAS hid behind a curtain, their masters hid behind a thicker veil - Public Interest Immunity! Certificates. No questions could be raised about the intelligence that enabled the SAS to claim they thought the three were armed and in control of a bomb. Nor about the decision, made by Thatcher herself, to use the SAS. Yet it was this decision that sealed the fate of the three. Neither the eyewitnesses who saw the three finished off while on the ground, nor the forensic evidence with its cold scientific portrayal of Sean Savage shot in the head whilst immobilised on the ground, could alter the outcome of such a carefully managed event.
The inquest did not hear the full story but enough of it is now known to show what really happened. The political background is clear enough. Following the Enniskillen bombing Mrs Thatcher declared that there would be 'no hiding place' for the IRA. At that time she already knew of the IRA unit's presence in Spain, as did British intelligence. Thatcher has made no secret of her view that Britain is at war with the IRA. Indeed she has said that civil liberties such as freedom of the press and the right to silence must be sacrificed in this war. What better opportunity could there be to put the war strategy into operation? Tipped-off that three senior IRA figures were engaged in preparations for an operation in Gibraltar, the British government took the decision to eliminate them in as public and terrifying a fashion as possible. Murder, pure and simple, is what happened in Gibraltar. In this pamphlet we will show the overwhelming evidence for this and show who the murderers were.
We will also show how it was possible for the British government to get away with murder. The British government is responsible for murder but it is the British Labour Party and the British media who acted as their accomplices in the subsequent cover-up.
The Gibraltar murders are not unique. Nor, except in its scale, is the government's subsequent cover-up unique. Since 1982 at least 53 Irish people have been shot dead by British forces in disputed circumstances. The only British soldier convicted for one of these killings was released in 1988 after serving less than three years of a life sentence. He returned to service with the Army.
There is indeed a lot to hide about British strategy and operations in Ireland. And there are very good reasons for hiding it. If the full truth became known about the extent of British repression in Ireland the British public would see what the Irish people have seen for the past twenty years: that Britain can rule Ireland only by murder, intimidation and suppression of all basic rights. British rule means the spilling of blood in Ireland as surely as it was spilt in Gibraltar.
Successive British governments since 1969 have been engaged in a war in Ireland. Their basic aim - the annihilation of the IRA and revolutionary Republicanism - has remained constant throughout. Their political and military strategy has been geared to this aim at every stage. Sustained repression, house raids, searches, arbitrary arrests and beatings have been directed against the nationalist population with the specific aim of wearing down their resistance and their support for the Republican movement. Alongside this a series of measures has been aimed at identifying and eliminating Republican activists. Internment, Bloody Sunday, torture and assassinations have all been used by British imperialism. When one method becomes publicly embarrassing they will move on to another. Internment without trial, used in the 1970s, became a liability as world attention focused on its victims. In the 1982/83 period when Sinn Fein made considerable headway in the Assembly elections, informers and show trials were used to judicially intern hundreds of Republicans by railroading them through juryless Diplock courts on perjured and bribed testimony. At the same time there was a spate of shoot-to-kill murders of targeted activists by the Army and RUC.
Frank Kitson (then Brigadier Frank Kitson) has made the ruling class thinking behind this strategy clear in his book Low Intensity Operations. An expert on counter-insurgency, he served in the Army in Ireland between 1970 and 1972. He argues that it is necessary ruthlessly to 'discover and neutralise the genuine subversive element' whilst at the same time strengthening 'moderate' elements who support the state. His strategy puts emphasis on intelligence-gathering and includes the use of psychological operations against the opposition: the use of the media to put over the government case; dirty tricks; agents provocateurs; and finally, where necessary, assassinations.
The Gibraltar operation fits well into this British strategy. It represents the other side of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. On the one hand, the Agreement strengthens the 'moderates', the bourgeois nationalists of the SDLP, by holding out the promise of reform. On the other hand, the British government tracks down and eliminates revolutionary opposition.
The Gibraltar murders caused an enormous, angry response in the Six Counties. The nationalist people were ready with resistance as they have been at every outrage directed at them by the British state. But here in Britain there was barely an outcry at the murderous actions of the British government. Not only does this lack of solidarity with the Irish people strengthen the hand of the British state in Ireland, but also it leads inexorably to the erosion of the democratic rights of the British working class. The lessons of repression learned in Ireland are being applied to working-class struggle in Britain. It was no accident that during the harsh repression directed against the miners during the 1984-5 strike, the miners themselves talked of 'Belfast' coming to their small communities. By failing to build a movement of solidarity with the Irish people, a movement which demands Irish self-determination and the immediate withdrawal of troops, the British working-class movement is making a rod for its own back.
When Mairead Farrell came out of prison in 1986 she said:
'I'm a socialist definitely and I'm a Republican. I believe in a united Ireland: a united socialist Ireland, definitely socialist. Capitalism provides no answer at all for our people, and I think that's the Brits' main interest in Ireland.'
It was revolutionary nationalism itself that the British were trying to murder in Gibraltar. Mairead Farrell, Danny McCann and Sean Savage were gunned down and buried amidst lies. This pamphlet cannot match the resources of the British government and the British media. But it can tell the truth about the Gibraltar killings and the British shoot-to-kill strategy. In this way we not only pay tribute to the Gibraltar Three but also warn the British working class about how its government will act against those who threaten British imperialism.
Two months before the Gibraltar murders the British Attorney General, Patrick Mayhew, officially closed the record on six murders by the RUC in 1982 in Ireland and the Stalker inquiry into the killings. Mayhew admitted that there was evidence of police officers perverting the course of justice but said that because of 'considerations of national security' no charges would be brought against officers involved in the killings or the subse- quent conspiracy to obstruct justice. To justify giving the state's seal of approval to the murderous actions of its forces in Ireland he said: 'I have had to balance one harm to national security against another'.
It is no surprise that two months later British forces claimed three more lives, this time in Gibraltar. For 'national security' read 'state terrorism'. And if the government could get away with not only the 1982 murders but also with a catalogue of official obstruction of Stalker's inquiry, why notkeep on doing it?
The roots of the Gibraltar murders lie, of course, in the British occupation of Ireland. But they lie most particularly in the Stalker affair. For many years the nationalist people had believed that individual Republican activists were targeted and eliminated by British forces. But in 1982 a series of murders took place which made this more than a suspicion: within a one month period six men were shot dead by the RUC.
On 11 November 1982 Eugene Toman, Gervaise McKerr and Sean Burns were shot dead as they drove in Armagh. They were cut down in a hail of 109 bullets. All three were unarmed. They were shot by members of the RUC E4A unit, an SAS-trained squad. Although the RUC at first claimed that they had been on routine patrol and that the car had accelerated through a roadblock, it was later revealed that the RUC had been tailing the three for three days. Moreover, witnesses denied the existence of a roadblock. Toman was found lying outside the car having been killed by a shot to the heart. Witnesses had heard two bursts of shots separated by two minutes. Three RUC officers were prosecuted for the murder of Eugene Toman but all were acquitted. The RUC claimed that they had information that two of the three were armed and were on their way to commit a murder. This explanation has come to sound very familiar.
On 24 November 1982 17-year-old Michael Tighe and Martin McAuley were ambushed and Tighe shot dead as they entered a farm building which was under RUC surveillance. Not only was this a carefully prepared ambush but M15 had actually bugged the farm building in which Tighe died. The RUC claimed that Tighe had pointed a rifle at them but forensic evidence contradicted their story.
On 12 December 1982 Seamus Grew and Roddy Carroll were killed when E4A opened fire on their car. Both men were unarmed. The RUC immediately said that the two had driven through a police roadblock but later admitted this was a deliberately false version of events. In fact the car had been tailed north and south of the border. An unmarked police surveillance vehicle had intercepted the car and police had shot both men dead. Carroll was killed by 15 shots fired from six to ten feet away. Grew was found not in the car but face upwards on the road having been shot in the back of the head. Forensic evidence proved that he had been shot from three feet away whilst out of the car. One RUC officer was tried for Grew's murder and acquitted having said that he fired because he believed 'his life was in danger'. Again, the familiar story. The Armagh Coroner resigned due to 'grave irregularities' in the RUC files on this case. It should also be noted that Seamus Grew had been the object of illegal Army actions in the past. In 1984 Captain Fred Holroyd, a former Army intelligence officer in Ireland, reported that in 1974 three Protestants were hired by the Army to go into the Twenty Six Counties and kidnap Grew to bring him north of the border.
Later it emerged that E4A had gone on this bloody trail of revenge after three RUC officers were killed by the IRA. The RUC paid an informer to set up Toman and Burns. E4A was effectively a covert police murder squad organised on military lines and were ordered to conceal what they did behind the Offical Secrets Act. Operating from unmarked cars, they were heavily armed with Sterling submachine guns and RUCer high velocity rifles and handguns. After each killing the RUC issued a false cover story, removed witnesses and destroyed forensic evidence. A forged RUC report was compiled on Michael Tighe after his death (he had no Republican connections) in order to implicate him. During one of the trials RUC Deputy Chief Constable Michael McAtamney said that E4A were trained by the SAS and that the training was based on the premise that once you have decided to fire you shoot to take out our enemy. 'Do you mean permanently?', he was asked. 'Yes', he replied.
So great was the outcry about these cases that in 1984 John Stalker, Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, was asked to conduct an investigation.
Stalker dug too deep. He found that the prosecution papers for the trials of the RUC men 'bore no resemblance to my idea of a murder pro secution' and that he 'could see clearly why the prosecutions had failed'. He found that vital forensic evidence (bullets, cartridge cases and other evidence) were removed from the scenes of the killings; that vital witnesses were never interviewed and there were 'shockingly low standards' of inquiry. In the course of his investigation he met outright hostility and obstruction from all levels of the RUC.
He found that after the killings of Toman, Burns and McKerr, the RUC men responsible left the scene to be debriefed by Special Branch. Detectives investigating the shootings were denied access to them, their weapons and car for days after this. He found that deliberately false cover stories were put out by the RUC.
Most dangerous for the RUC (and M15) Stalker discovered that the farm building where Tighe was killed had been bugged and that a tape of the shooting existed. After months of wrangling, the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Jack Hermon, said the tape would only be released to Stalker if the Attorney General signed a certificate stating that it was in the national interest. This was done. But just before Stalker was due to return to Ireland to get the transcript of the tape, he was removed from the inquiry on spurious charges of misconduct. Not only was he closing in on the tape, but also he wanted to question the upper echelons of the RUC. He was simply too dangerous to be allowed to remain in charge of the inquiry.
Far from Stalker getting the RUC culprits for the murders, the British government got Stalker. Stalker is clear about this: 'I believe that in April 1986 a government decision was made to end my involvement in the enquiry'.
Whilst Stalker not surprisingly failed to find evidence of a formal shoot-to-kill policy, he did find evidence of deliberate assassination. Of the case of Michael Tighe he had this to say:
'I also passionately believe that if a police force could, in cold blood, kill a seventeen-year-old youth with no terrorist or criminal convictions, and then plot to hide the evidence...then the shame belonged to us all. This is the act of a Central American assassination squad.'
These are not the words of a government critic but of a former Assistant Chief Constable, an establishment man to the core.
The similarities to the events in Gibraltar are striking: false cover Stories; surveillance leading to shootings; shootings justified on the grounds of non-existent 'threats' to the lives of the police; shooting continued until the victim is dead, often finishing them off on the ground; forensic evidence destroyed; witnesses not followed up; murderers removed rapidly from the scene for debriefing. All of these things happened in the 1982 killings and in Gibraltar in 1988. And there was something else in common: a prolonged and elaborate cover-up. The British government was prepared to go to enormous lengths to prevent the truth about the 1982 killings emerging. It was prepared to claim 'national security' to justify its murderous actions. Likewise in Gibraltar.
There is another significant factor in common: the SAS which did the killings in Gibraltar trained E4A in Ireland. A member of E4A revealed in court that:
'One feature of this training is that the traditional police concept of the use ofminimum force is abandoned. In one exercise officers have to burst into what is known as the "killing room" and fire a set number of shots into a dummy within a certain time. The exercise, aimed at developing "firepower, speed and aggression", is repeated until the officer meets the standard.'
The SAS, like its murderous offspring E4A, does not take prisoners. It is, in effect, a highly-trained assassination squad.
The British government took a calculated risk by organising such an obvious cover-up in the Stalker affair. And because they got away with it, they were better prepared to get away with murder in Gibraltar. In November 1988, six years after their deaths and two months after the Gibraltar inquest, the inquest into the deaths of McKerr, Toman and Burns opened in Ireland. The British government produced Public Interest Immunity Certificates to prevent questions being raised that concerned 'national security', ic the truth. They had learned the usefulness of this trick in Gibraltar. Events had come full circle. 'Central American-style assassination squads' are alive and well and flourishing in Britain, organised by the British government.
The effort which the British government put into preventing Stalker from discovering the truth about shoot-to-kill was minor in comparison with their efforts in Gibraltar. Because it was the only form of inquiry to take place, these efforts were concentrated on the inquest itself.
Long before it opened, the Gibraltar Coroner, Mr Felix Pizzarello, indicated his unhappiness that the inquest was to be the sole inquiry into the killings. The inquest, he said, was likely to be 'flawed'. This proved to be the understatement of the century. A telling indication of just how flawed it was to be, came after Pizzarello announced a date for the inquest - 27 June. Two weeks later, the British government announced that the Coroner had decided to postpone the inquest. However, Mr Pizzarello was unaware of this decision! The inquest and the preparations for it were effectively in the hands of the British government. The press was muzzled. The witnesses to the killings were subjected to a relentless campaign to discredit and frighten them.
Mr Pizzarello's 'flaws' were, in reality, gaping holes. But the biggest hole of all was the one through which the British government made its escape. Public Interest Immunity Certificates (PICs) meant that no questions about the background of the SAS operation and the decision to use the SAS could be raised. Instead the inquest was to be locked into a minute inquiry into events lasting less than four hours - from the time Sean Savage arrived in Gibraltar to the time the three lay lifeless in their own blood.
Yet it was precisely the excluded intelligence background which would have been central to revealing the truth. Firstly it was this 'intelligence' that led the SAS to be so sure (and so wrong) that the three were armed and had a remote controlled bomb on 6 March. This provided the SAS with their stated reason for shooting the three. The PIICs meant that no questions could be asked about the basis on which the British believed the three to be armed or to have a bomb. Secondly, the question of what surveillance the three were under in Spain and why, nevertheless, they were allowed to cross into Gibraltar could not be properly pursued. By its use of PICs the British government ensured that there could be no serious inquiry into the Gibraltar operation.
Instead the British government presented an elaborately-rehearsed, two-stage cover story. Stage One was 'for reasons which we cannot divulge we mistakenly let three IRA members into Gibraltar and mistakenly thought they were armed and had a bomb'. This led neatly to Stage Two: the SAS 'saw threatening gestures by the three which led us to believe they were going to detonate the (non-existent) bomb so we shot them' - Stage One led inexorably to Stage Two, but Stage One could never be questioned. It was designed as a neat, circular and impenetrable cover.
THE COVER STORY - STAGE ONE
O - WHAT A LIAR
The first stage in the cover story was given by O, a senior M15 officer responsible for the investigation of terrorism. He had briefed all those involved in the Gibraltar operation - the Gibraltar police, British military officers and the British government. His briefing was, he said, based on hard intelligence' which enabled British security to know the names of the three and of their plan to plant a car bomb at the soldiers' assembly point for the changing of the guard ceremony in Gibraltar on 8 March.
For the British to have this level of detailed foreknowledge is extremely unusual. Armed with such intelligence it would be a reasonable assumption that the three could have been kept under surveillance and arrested fairly easily. But this is where 0 and the rest of the British operation fell apart. Or so we are told.
O asked the inquest to believe that, despite knowledge of their intentions, three identified IRA suspects were allowed to roam freely around Spain without surveillance. Then they were able, despite the fact that British intelligence had been expecting them, to bring a car bomb across the border and drive into Gibraltar without even being seen. O stressed this: 'The car was not seen to cross the border...neither the people nor the car were under surveillance at the time they crossed the border'. Paddy McGrory, the barrister for the families, challenged O on this point. Immediately the government barrister objected that the question contravened the PIIC. McGrory then asked O why the three were not under surveillance 'given that their movements were known to the security services'. To prevent this question being answered, the PIIC was used for a second time. It was clearly a point of great sensitivity.
O's briefing included the assumptions that the three would be armed and would use a remote controlled time device. O told the inquest:
'The three areas where we were not correct were: on March 6 when the incident took place the three were not armed. The car parked on that occasion was a blocking car. When the car bomb was eventually discovered it did not contain a remote controlled device but a timing device.'
Whilst O managed to be right about so much, he not only missed the car crossing the border but also managed, crucially, to be wrong about the very factors which gave the SAS the opportunity and the justification to shoot the three dead. As Ian Jack, writing in the Observer, pointedly remarked: 'We are being asked to believe, in effect, that when O was good he was very, very good but when he was bad he was awful'. O's 'mistakes' provided the SAS with their cover story: they could say that they believed the three were armed and would have a remote controlled device on them to trigger a car bomb in the area. This, as soldiers A to D were continually to stress, was what made them shoot the three when they allegedly made movements.
The British case for shooting the three could only be disproved by two methods. Firstly, if it could be shown that the three were under surveillance in Spain and allowed into Gibraltar. This would point strongly to a conspiracy to get them onto British territory, where the operation to murder them could be conducted more easily. It is now known that they were indeed under surveillance in Spain and were handed over to Britain at the Gibraltar border. The extent of surveillance and the detailed information which the British possessed indicates that the three were not only expected on 6 March but also known not to be planting a bomb on that date. They were known to be on a preliminary visit.
Even without the testimony of Spanish surveillance, the British govemment's own story was that they believed the date for the bombing was going to be Tuesday 8 March. Why they should suddenly assume the three were going to plant a bomb on a Sunday when the alleged target, Army bandsmen, were not present was never explained. Neither was O's confident, and wrong, belief that a remote controlled device would be used, satisfactorily explained. Given that the IRA has never exploded such a device out of sight of the target, the assumption that they would go to Gibraltar and detonate the device and then have to try to re-cross the only border after a major explosion, defies belief. In fact the British must have known that the three were on a preliminary visit on the day they were killed. Hence the government 5 use of PIICs to prevent any questioning about the surveillance aspect of the British operation. For it was in this area that they were vulnerable. The only other method of disproving the British case relied on eye witnesses contradicting the SAS testimony of the shooting itself. Hence, as we shall see later, the campaign to discredit the witnesses.
THE COVER GETS BLOWN...A LITTLE
Other testimony at the inquest put O's evidence in a different light. First was the question of how a suspected (but actually non-existent) car bomb was driven across the border by a known IRA man, allegedly without being noticed.
All of the senior British and Gibraltar witnesses agreed with O's story of no surveillance. Soldier F, the SAS commander, confirmed O's story that there was no surveillance in Spain and said that this lack of advance warning ruled out arresting them either as they crossed the border or as they parked the car in Gibraltar. M, in charge of the M15 surveillance team, also said that no security personnel were checking passports and that there was no cooperation from immigration officials. Gibraltar Police Commissioner Canapa said that the aliases of the three were not known, implying that this, too, would have made it difficult for the police to stop them at the border.
It was not until day eleven of the inquest that this particularly tangled web started to unravel. As soon as Special Branch Detective Constable Charles Huart appeared, things immediately started to look very odd. He confirmed that on 6 March he spent seven hours on the Spanish side of the border checking passports. This was the first time the inquest had heard of any such surveillance, and it not only contradicted previous testimony of no surveillance, but it also undermined the British story that they had no idea when the three would enter Gibraltar.
The inquest was supposed to believe that with Gibraltar literally crawling with SAS, police and M15, poor old DC Huart was the only border surveillance organised. And he managed to miss them. He said that the Spanish authorities had provided him with a video terminal and fed details to him of photographs from suspect passports. This is where he got into a mess with his evidence. The aliases being used by Savage and McCann were known to the British at the time but Huart claimed he was looking out for the three in their real names! Pressed by barrister Paddy McGrory, however, he admitted that he had been given a list of possible aliases: 'At the time, I knew'. When asked how he still managed to miss Savage driving across the border using a known alias, Huart blamed the Spanish police.
After Huart's evidence a different picture had emerged. The British knew enough about when the three would cross the border to have a man checking passports there. They also knew the aliases and had photographs of the three. Later witnesses from the SAS were to admit that they recognised the three without difficulty once they were in Gibraltar. How then did they still manage get across the border undetected?
Gibraltar Special Branch Detective Chief Inspector Joe Ullger gave some of the game away. Whilst stoutly maintaining that the three had crossed the border unnoticed, he admitted that the plan all along was to let them into Gibraltar in order, he said, to arrest them. Now we can understand why Huart and Co managed to miss' Savage crossing the horder. Either they were meant to 'miss' him whilst other more sophisticated British surveillance was on his tail or Huart actually did spot him. Either way the British knew when Savage crossed the border. This was the plan. Ullger was clear: 'The only way for the operation to succeed was to allow the terrorists to come in.' Compare this with O: when asked 'if the primary concern was the protection of people against the bombing, why was the suspect car allowed into Gibraltar at all?', he answered, 'The answer is very simple: the car was not seen to cross the border'. The implication was that had the British spotted them they would have arrested them on the border. O is flatly contradicted by Ullger's evidence. O has a great deal more reason to lie about this point than Ullger.
With Ullger's evidence we start to get nearer to the truth. The plan was, all along, to allow them in to Gibraltar. This is an extraordinary admission. For if we take it on face value, it means that the British plan (after months of preparation) was to allow an Active Service Unit (ASU) to wander around Spain, bring a car bomb through Spain, across the border, and then... and only then...arrest them. This simply does not fit in with normal British practices against the IRA. For it means that even if this so-called British plan had proceeded without a hitch and the three had been spotted entering Gibraltar, it would still have meant challenging three known IRA members on a street even though they were thought to be armed and in possession of a remote controlled bomb. It is simply unbelievable that an official plan containing such a risk would be the one chosen after months of preparation.
The 'let them in' plan admitted by Ullger only holds water if the British knew that the three were not armed and did not have a bomb. Why was it not planned to arrest them on the border, Detective Ullger was asked. Because it 'would have spoiled the operation' - indeed it would.
SPAIN PUTS THE COVERS BACK ON
Whilst Huart and Ullger unwittingly dented the British story there was one source of evidence which could have destroyed it. It is known beyond all doubt that Spanish police had been watching the three since November 1987. Not only have the Spanish authorities admitted this and given details but so has the Ministry of Defence (MOD). For some weeks after the shootings the MOD continued to brief journalists about Spanish surveillance. This fitted in with Geoffrey Howe's first statement to the House of Commons on 7 March:
'confident that the House will wish me to extend our gratitude to the Spanish authorities, without whose invaluable assistance the outcome might have been very different.'
'Shortly before 1pm yesterday afternoon, one of those subsequently shot brought a white Renault car into Gibraltar and was seen to park it in the area where the band for the guard mounting ceremony assembles.'
'An hour and a half later, the two others subsequently shot were seen to enter Gibraltar on foot.'
How could all this have been seen unless surveillance on the Spanish side of the border had handed the three over to the British? However, some weeks after the shooting the government story changed dramatically. Presumably they had realised that the shootings would look too much like the ambush they were, if it was admitted that the three were seen entering Gibraltar. So Spanish surveillance had to disappear. The official story then became that the Spanish police had lost the three in Malaga and that they were not seen again until they surfaced in Gibraltar.
This was a very important lie. For, with their evidence of detailed surveillance of the three right up to the border, it would have been clear that the British knew exactly when the three were arriving in Gibraltar. Also that they knew the three were not on a bombing mission on 6 March hut on a preparatory mission. In other words the British would have known that they had no bomb. Spanish evidence would have made it possible to pose the crucial questions: if the British knew they were armed and had a bomb, why let them in? If they knew they were unarmed and had no bomb, why shoot them?
In the weeks before the inquest, and even during the inquest itself, the Spanish police were asked to testify. According to numerous press reports the Spanish police were willing to do so and indeed angry at the British claim that there was no surveillance on the three in Spain. However, they did not turn up to the inquest.
Why did they fail to attend the inquest) The reported reason was a political one, that the Spanish government would not give diplomatic ground to Britain's claim to Gibraltar by having Spanish police appear in a 'British' court. This is plainly nonsense. If the Spanish had wanted to emphasise the point that Britain was unfit to rule Gibraltar they had merely to turn up in court and show that the British officials had committed perjury in order to cover up murder.
The Independent hinted at the real reason: 'the (Spanish) government, according to diplomatic sources, seems to have realised that no political gains could be made by nettling Mrs Thatcher on this sensitive issue.' In fact (by sheer coincidence, no doubt) Mrs Thatcher was in Spain on an official visit on 21 September, during the inquest itself. She met with Prime Minister Gonzalez and had the opportunity to persuade him not to complain about the British lie that Spanish police had lost the three at Malaga, and to agree that his police and intelligence officers would not give evidence to the inquest. What did Thatcher offer in return? Private Eye has suggested the following explanation. Spain has been trying to join the Western European Union for some time. The Union is a defence alliance whose members are given useful military information and equipment. Reagan and Thatcher had previously opposed Spain's entry because of the Spanish government's opposition to nuclear bases in Spain. However, after Thatcher's meeting with Gonzalez, Spain suddenly and inexplicably gained entry to the Union. That may be why the Spanish evidence, so crucial to disproving the British story, was never heard at the inquest. Additionally the British government's announcement in February 1989 of a substantial reduction in its armed forces on Gibraltar may have been another pay-off. Rarely has the nature of imperialist diplomacy been so nakedly exposed.
Before this deal, anxious to uphold the reputation of its police force, Spanish government and police sources did supply ample information to the press about the surveillance operation in Spain. Spanish police began their surveillance operation, at British request, in November 1987. British security personnel worked with the police in Spain on this operation. Spanish police closely watched and even eavesdropped on the three during their preparatory visits to Spain. Daniel McCann was followed as he entered Spain on 4 March. He and Sean Savage were then kept under constant surveillance as they met Mairead Farrell and drove to Gibraltar. Using sophisticated tailing techniques and a helicopter the movements of the three were relayed minute by minute to British intelligence officials in Gibraltar. Sean Savage was handed over to British surveillance as he crossed by car as were the other two as they crossed by foot into Gibraltar. The spokesman for the Spanish Interior Ministry, Augustin Valladolid, confirmed these details soon after the killings and added that British intelligence officers were based in Malaga working with the Spanish pol- ice operation. Additionally, the Spanish police provided cars and drivers for the Death on the Rock programme to show exactly how they did it.
Further confirmation of Spanish surveillance came in March 1989 when senior sources in Spain's Foreign Intelligence Brigade revealed that on the day of the killings, Spanish security followed the three not only to the Gibraltar border but actually into Gibraltar. They reported the movements of the three to the British authorities. Furthermore, crucially, they told the British authorities that the three had no explosives with them. The British government immediately called these allegations 'untrue' - But the only evidence cited by the British that the three were 'lost' on 4 March is an unsworn statement by a Chief Inspector in Malaga which he denies making. Against this fragile piece of evidence must be weighed the over- whelming evidence from several senior Spanish officials of Spanish surveillance right into Gibraltar. Moreover, Spain has publicly honoured 22 of the policemen involved in the surveillance operation, which they would hardly have done if the three had been lost.
From this two things are clear: the British knew exactly when the three arrived in Gibraltar; O and other senior British figures at the inquest committed perjury.
A CAREFULLY PREPARED AMBUSH
The Death on the Rock programme gave an additional piece of evidence. The British knew of the IRA plan in November 1987. In December the venue for the alleged IRA target, the changing of the guard ceremony in Gibraltar, was suddenly closed - for a 'facelift'. It was not re-opened until 23 February. The trap baited, the British then merely had to wait for the IRA unit to return to Spain which they did in early March.
In total opposition to the British story we have now established this sequence of events:
It is clear that the British could have stopped the three on the border but chose not to. To complete the picture of what the real British plan was, there is one more piece of evidence. The British story is that Sean Savage was seen parking his car in Gibraltar at 12.50pm on the day of the shootings and was positively identified at around 2pm. Officer G, an SAS officer, claimed to have examined the car at around 3.30pm and to have reported it to be a suspect car bomb. So, from 12.50pm there was a car parked in a public street which the British suspected might be a car bomb. But there was no effort to evacuate the area of the suspect car until after the three were dead. A Gibraltar police officer, Chief Inspector Lopez, had been put in charge of evacuating the area during the planning stages of the British operation. But on 6 March he was not even informed that there was a suspicious car until 3.40pm. Not until he heard the shootings did he try to cordon off the area of the bomb but found that he did not have the manpower to do so.
If the authorities really thought there was a car bomb why did SAS Soldier G boldly approach the car and examine it - hardly standard behaviour for dealing with a car bomb! So we have the strange situation where the British took the bomb threat seriously enough to shoot three people dead but not seriously enough to clear the area or indeed do anything about the so-called bomb.
The British had prepared this operation since November 1987. The three were watched throughout their time in Spain and handed to British surveillance as they crossed the border. Their plans were known in detail. No effort was made to stop them as they crossed the border and the parked car was left in place with no effort to evacuate the area. Add to this the fact that the British had set up the three by closing the target in December and re-opening it in February. Add to this the fact that the changing of the guard happened not on a Sunday (the day of the killings) but a Tuesday.
Add it all up and what do you have? You have the British, for once, with detailed information of an IRA plan and its date and target. You have the British carefully baiting the trap and having their forces in place. You have the British knowing full well that the three are without a bomb on 6 March and are in fact in the final stages of preparing for an operation the following week. You have this: a carefully planned ambush sanctioned by the British government and prepared for four months. You have murder, plain and simple. The British government is hell-bent on wiping out IRA members. What better opportunity would they have? To shoot three people dead on the street in broad daylight - it was to be a terrifying display of arrogance and force.
THE COVER STORY - STAGE TWO
Having made sure that its high-level preparations for murder could not be discovered at the inquest, the British had then only to present Stage Two of the cover. This could safely be left to those who do the killing on the ground - the SAS. All the SAS had to do was to stick to one story: that they believed the three were armed and had the remote controlled device for a bomb and that they made threatening movements.
SAS soldiers are trained and professional killers. In general they take neither chances nor prisoners; once they open fire they shoot to kill and once they have killed they invent a 'threat' which will justify their actions in the unlikely event that they are questioned. When the British government - in fact, Mrs Thatcher - decided to use the SAS in Gibraltar it was making sure that the final murderous part of the ambush would be carried out as efficiently as the early parts. Thatcher's decision to use the SAS leaves no doubt or ambiguity about the plan: the three would be murdered.
The evidence for this is clear. A high proportion of those who come face to face with the SAS do not live to tell the tale. When six people took over the Iranian Embassy in 1980, five of them were killed. The sixth was saved because hostages, horrified at the slaughter of the others, took pity on him and protected him. In Loughgall in 1987 eight IRA volunteers were ambushed while on a bombing operation. Eyewitnesses saw four of them surrender but all eight were shot dead. Two civilians in a car were caught in the ambush and one died as the car was raked by the SAS gunfire.
According to the Defence Correspondent of The Independent:
'The SAS is normally committed only when there is hard intelligence of a terrorist operation. This 'hard int', as it is referred to by men of the regiment, is as good as a death sentence for the terrorists involved ... Normal army training defines a successful ambush as one in which all the enemy soldiers involved are killed. SAS soldiers apply this basic principle with greater skill and precision than other troops.
'According to a source formerly in a key position at the Army's HQ in Northern Ireland, when the SAS is committed there is normally an understanding that no prisoners will be taken. The source says this is done partly to prevent members of the regiment from having to give account for their actions, or details of their methods in court.
Father Raymond Murray, who is researching a book into the SAS, has found that since 1976 there has been SAS involvement in 47 killings in the Six Counties. He has not come across any 'arrests' by the SAS. But he has noticed that SAS statements about the killings invariably foHow the same pattern - that they fired because they believed their lives were in danger. It is clear that after such operations the SAS are briefed with a cover story which gives their actions legal justification. This was the case in Gibraltar.
The SAS stuck to their cover story with monotonous predictability:
'He looked at me, then all of sudden, his right arm, right elbow, actually moved aggressively across the front of his body sir...I thought the man McCann was definitely going to go for the button...I fired at McCann one round into his back'.
'...Farrell had a bag under her left armpit at this stage. She had actually moved to the right and was grabbing the bag... I thought she also was going for the button so I shot Farrell in the back once sir...'
'Farrell made a sharp movement to her right. She made all the actions to carry out the detonation of a radio-controlled bomb.'
'Savage spun round very fast. I shouted stop. At the same time I shouted, he went down to the right area of his jacket.'
'Savage was turning. He spun round. When he was ordered to stop, he didn't stop. His arm had gone down, and it was around the hip area of his right-hand side, towards his jacket or his hip area... I drew my pistol and I fired at Savage.'
These threatening movements were not seen by any of the civilian eye witnesses. It is simply unbelievable that three experienced IRA members - all unarmed and without a remote controlled device - should have made identical threatening gestures. The reason for the SAS men all seeing these inexplicable gestures lies not in any fault in their perception. It lies with the SAS rules of engagement.
The rules of engagement for the Gibraltar operation were based on standard British Army Rules of Engagement. The rules were:
In the case of McCann and Farrell the soldiers admitted that their warning shout was useless. No civilian witnesses heard any warnings shouted. Having riddled the three with bullets without warning the SAS then simply constructed a story that would fit in with the rules of engagement - they had fired because they reasonably believed an action was going to be taken that would endanger life. Hence the importance of the SAS being able to claim that they believed the three had a remote controlled device. Hence also the threatening movements invisible to others.
The SAS and the British government were clearly aware that murdering people on a public street might present some small legal difficulties. The SAS even had a lawyer with them when they did their killings in Gibraltar to deal with any difficulties which might arise on the spot. But they were not questioned in Gibraltar and in fact left the area on the night of the shootings. They had plenty of time and advice in order to construct a scenario which fitted the rules of engagement. They did not make their first statements until 15 March in London. Before the inquest they had another six months in which to rehearse and coordinate their story.
The SAS soldiers who testified also laid great stress on the fact that they had used 'minimum force'. That the facts - three people literally cut to pieces by bullets - appeared to belie 'minimum force' did not worry them. They merely had to say that they fired until the three no longer presented a threat - until they stopped moving. As with the other part of their story they had to say this in order to fit in with their rules of engagement.
These were the injuries sustained by the three after the SAS had used 'minimum force'.
Shot five times, twice in the head, three times in the body. The bullets to the head were fired into her face and exited under her left ear and at the back of her neck. The three bullets that were fired into the middle of her back exited in the region of her left breast. Her heart and liver were pulped, her spinal column fractured and her chest cavity was awash with two litres of blood.
Shot four times, twice in the head and twice in the back. The two shots to his back caused damage to his liver, heart and left lung. The two shots to his head caused multiple fractures, laceration of the left cerebral hemisphere and extensive brain damage.
Shot at least sixteen times. He suffered 29 separate injuries. His arm was broken and he had various wounds on his torso. Five bullets entered his back and his lung was severely damaged. Four bullets entered his head and he had multiple damage to the brain and skull.
Only the twisted logic of the British government and its servants could seriously hold that these injuries were the product of minimum force. However it is not merely the extent of the injuries which prove that the SAS were lying. Whilst Stage One of the cover, its intelligence side, was impenetrable, Stage Two, the SAS story, was not. There were witnesses on 6 March. In the early days after the shooting and in the Death on the Rock programme these witnesses came forward with testimony which could have proved to be the undoing of the British government. Some had seen the three shot without warning, two with their hands in the air, and being finished off whilst lying injured on the ground. In fabricating its Gibraltar cover story, the British government had faced two possible dangers: the Spanish government and the eyewitnesses. If it could manage to nobble a government - which it did - civilian witnesses should prove a pushover. It unleashed a relentless campaign to frighten or discredit the witnesses.
Although many members of the public had witnessed the shootings the Gibraltar police made very little effort to find these witnesses. Detective Chief Inspector Correa, in charge of the police inquiry, claimed that despite making an appeal 'witnesses were not coming forward at all'. He claimed that the police had tried persistently to find witnesses. This does not tie in with the experience of Stephen Bullock who having gone to the police voluntarily to give his statement then pestered them for two months to take a statement from his wife who had also been present. For police suffering a dearth of witnesses this seems strange. Even stranger is the fact that whereas the police, for all their resources, could not find witnesses, the press could. Indeed they found some of the key witnesses to appear at the inquest. Carmen Proetta, for instance, was not approached by the Gibraltar police. It was left to the Death on the Rock team to do what should have been done by the Gibraltar police, to actively seek witnesses by going from door to door in the areas surrounding the scene of the shootings. Gibraltar is a very small place and people know each other there. It is unbelievable that outsiders from the British press should have found civilian witnesses when the police could not. The truth is that the police did not try. They did not want witnesses. They managed instead to produce an extraordinary succession of off-duty police witnesses who gave safe and predictable evidence.
CARMEN PROETTA - THE PENALTY FOR TELLING THE TRUTH
Of all the civilian eyewitnesses to the Gibraltar murders, Carmen Proetta's evidence was potentially some of the most damning for the British government.
Carmen Proetta told Death on the Rock that she had seen McCann and Farrell shot without warning with their hands in the air. As soon as her evidence became publicly known she was subjected to a campaign of threats and a barrage of press lies. The pressure on her was so enormous, that despite being one of the most strongly determined of the witnesses to speak out, she told the inquest:
'Let me tell you one thing, sir, If this had happened again I would not be here to give evidence.'
The day after Death on the Rock was broadcast, her husband received a phone call from a man claiming to be a policeman. He told him that the family's lives would be 'made a misery'. The Proetta children also received threats.
But it was left to the British press to apply the real pressure. For no other reason than that she had inconvenient testimony, the press, particularly the Murdoch-owned press, viciously attacked her. The Sunday Times launched a series of articles purporting to show that her story was untrue and saying that other witnesses had called her testimony ridiculous. This, like virtually every word published by the Sunday Times about Gibraltar, was a pack of lies.
The Sun, however, went even further. Two days after Death on the Rock was broadcast they printed a front page with a photograph of Carmen Proetta headlined 'Tart of Gib'. It said in bold letters: 'The Sun discovers shock truth about IRA witness Carmen. . she's an ex-prostitute, runs an escort agency, and is married to a sleazy drug peddler'. As well as suddenly making Carmen an 'IRA witness' they also said that both she and her husband were anti-British.
As is normal the Sun had concocted a story based on distortions and outright lies. For example, the escort agency was a tourist agency and Proetta's only connection was that she lent her name as a director in order that the company could comply with Spanish law. In fact she ceased even this distant connection with the company in 1985. Carmen Proetta was reported to be taking legal action against these newspapers.
In December 1988 Mrs Proetta was awarded £50,000 damages against the Sun and more will follow from other papers. However this came too late to undo the damage done to her evidence at the inquest. Not only was she put under enormous pressure but her testimony, when it finally came at the inquest, must have been devalued in the eyes of the jury. The British press, remembering the 'Tart of Gib' headline, was more interested in her split skirt than her evidence.
Whilst the government did not actively involve itself with the campaign against Proetta neither did they distance themselves from it. Mrs Thatcher and Co. raged about the Death on the Rock programme, calling it trial by television', but (and it should not be forgotten that Mrs Thatcher is in regular personal contact with Murdoch) ignored the trial by newspapers which Mrs Proetta endured.
Other witnesses and potential witnesses must have watched Carmen Proetta's ordeal with apprehension. Was the same thing likely to happen to them if they spoke out? Whilst she got the worst of the press treatment, other witnesses were subjected to direct threats.
ROBYN MORDUE - 'YOU'VE GOT TO STAY AWAY'
Robyn Mordue was on holiday in Gibraltar on 6 March. He witnessed the shooting of Sean Savage. Most crucially he saw Savage fall to the ground following a burst of shots, then he heard a second burst of shots and when he looked up saw an SAS man standing over Savage with his hands pointing downwards. Whilst not conclusive evidence that Savage had been shot on the ground it was very suggestive.
Mordue, having witnessed the killing on 6 March, did not report to the police and returned to Britain. Later two Special Branch officers came to see him and asked him to make a statement. He did so.
After this he began receiving threatening phone calls both to his ex-directory number at home and to his workplace. The callers, with English accents, called him a 'bastard' and told him 'You've got to stay away'. Mordue was clearly frightened and has said: 'People seem to know more about me than anything I have said' and that 'a lot of people' were checking up on him.
There is no way of knowing what effect this had on Mordue's testimony. What is known is that he was very nervous and confused in the witness box. So much so that he had to be recalled to give his evidence from the beginning again. He had to be cross-examined several times in order to clarify his evidence. In the end it was clear that he had heard a second burst of shots fired after Savage hit the ground. But so confused and nervous had he been as a witness that the Coroner crucially misre ported his evidence. In his summing up the Coroner told the jury that Mordue had said that no shots were fired whilst Savage was on the ground. This was quite wrong and entirely destroyed the value of Mordue's testimony.
It is hard to believe that Proetta and Mordue alone were singled-out for special treatment. It can be assumed that other witnesses were threatened. It just happens, in the cases of Proetta and Mordue, that they spoke out about the threats they had received. Moreover pressure can take many forms.
VICTOR ADAMS - THE WITNESS WITH NOTHING TO SAY
Victor Adams was the only civilian injured during the events on 6 March, receiving a slight wound from a ricochet. At the inquest his evidence consisted of saying that he had seen nothing. However, before the inquest he was publicised by the Times as an important 'new witness'. He was questioned first by British police after which two Gibraltar police flew over to take another statement. This seems a lot of effort for a witness who saw nothing. Another newspaper, the Sheffield Star, reported in May that Adams had witnessed the shootings and been questioned at length by representatives from 'various government departments' and 'others'. According to Private Eye, Adams has consistently refused to name these 'departments' or the 'others'. It is reported that he has been paid a sum of £10,000 compensation by the Ministry of Defence for the minor wound he received.
KENNETH ASQUEZ - THE WITNESS WHO BECAME 'CONFUSED'
Finally we have the strange case of bank clerk Kenneth Asquez. His original evidence (given in the form of an unsigned statement in his own handwriting to a Major Bob Randall and subsequently verbally confirmed to a solicitor representing the Death on the Rock programme) was that he had seen an SAS soldier shoot Savage in the head whilst standing over him with a foot on his chest. Had he stuck to this, it would have been shattering for the British government. The Coroner made clear that unlawftil killing verdicts would have to follow if it could be shown that the three were flnished off whilst on the ground. Asquez's original story represented a grave threat to the British government.
However, Asquez did not stick to his story. On the same day that Carmen Proetta appeared in the witness box, so did Asquez. It was his evidence that was to capture the headlines and give comfort to the British government. For he claimed that although he had been driving past the area of the shooting with friends he had invented the details of what happened. He said that when he made the original statement he had been confused, ill and under pressure from Major Bob Randall. After the inquest he publicly retracted this allegation against Randall.
Although the British government and press seized on his evidence and described it as a retraction, this is not true. Asquez did not retract his original story in a clear-cut way. Indeed, he was incoherent to the point of incomprehension in the witness box. These bizarre exchanges were typical:
Coroner: Was this statement true, or parts of it correct and parts of it not true?
Asquez: At the moment I'm a bit confused, because my mind is not so clear.
Coroner: Did you see a man bleeding on the ground?
Asquez: I can't remember very clearly.
Coroner: You can't remember very clearly?
Asquez: He was on the side of the road. At the time I was suffering from an illness and am not very clear about it. I'm a bit confused.
Coroner: All right, but you don't see a body lying every day.
Asquez: I suppose not, but, as I said, at the time of this statement I was under pressure a lot from Bob Randall.
Coroner: Yes, I understand that. At the time you made.
Asquez: I was heavily relying on the newspapers and the press.
Coroner: Did you say you relied on the newspapers?
Coroner: Who did?
Asquez: Whoever made this up.
Coroner: You made this up? Who relied heavily on the press?
Asquez: On making some parts of it.
Coroner: You relied on the press reports to make this story up?
Asquez: Part of it, yes.
Coroner: Where did you get the bit about someone standing over the dying man's throat?
Asquez: I guess I must have heard it.
Coroner: And you've no recollection where else you might have got it from?
Asquez: No. The media I guess.
Shorthand Writer: Pardon?
Asquez: The media I guess.
Coroner: Can you not remember which particular newspapers?
Coroner: And where did you get this bit about 'Stop, it's OK, it's the police'?
Asquez: I guess I must have read or heard it.
McGrory: I can't hear a word.
Barrister Hucker: Could he speak into the microphone, might that help?
McGrory: Is the vital part of that statement that the man with the black beret had his foot on the dying man's throat: he shouted stop and they then fired a further three or four shots... Did you make thay up?
McGrory: Of all the people present in this room, only you know if you made it up or not, and what you are saying. There are eleven of your fellow citizens of Gibraltar, tell them whether it's true or not.
Asquez: I can't say 'yes' or 'no'. I was probably still confused.
Asquez gave every impression not of a man confused but terrified out of his wits. There are several points about Asquez's original statement and his 'retraction' of it that do not add up.
Firstly, in his original statement Asquez had mentioned certain details which did not become known until the inquest itself. These were that the SAS men, after shooting Savage, put on black berets and shouted 'Stop, it's OK, it's the police'. When pressed by the Coroner about how he knew this Asquez merely said he had got it from the media or heard it. But these details were not publicised at the time Asquez made his statement. A search of newspapers failed to produce any such details.
Secondly, after Asquez gave his statement to Randall, a solicitor acting for Death on the Rock took an affidavit from him. Asquez made clear to this solicitor that he did not want to be involved with the press or to give evidence. Nevertheless on the basis of his conversation with Asquez, the solicitor drew up an affidavit which is in all essentials the same as Asquez's original handwritten statement. The solicitor was clear that Asquez had told him about the man standing with his foot on Savage's chest. The solicitor could only have heard this from Asquez during this interview because he had not even seen Asquez's original handwritten statement containing these points.
Asquez told the solicitor that he was 'extremely frightened' and wished he had never made his original statement. The solicitor undertook to try and get his handwritten statement back as it was 'dangerous' to have it floating around Gibraltar. The solicitor told the inquest: '...at no time did he tell me he had been pressurised into making the witness statement. At no time was he under any pressure or inducement from me. So if he had wanted an opportunity to tell me that what he had said before was not true, I can't think ofa better one. In fact the solicitor told the inquest that he had believed Asquez's evidence and had found him 'a sincere young man'.
Thirdly, Asquez, like all the other witnesses, must have come under serious pressure to retract his statement. He claimed to have lied in order to get rid of the pressure of a few phone calls from Randall. How much greater must have been the pressure to retract? He had seen what had happened to other controversial witnesses. This would be enough to frighten most people off. Perhaps he was subjected to other, more direct threats. Whatever the reason, after he made his first statement he became a very frightened young man. After the inquest he admitted that Randall had not put pressure on him. Thus he withdrew the only reason he ever gave for making that original statement.We are left with no other reason for his original statement than this: it was true.
Fourthly, Asquez admitted that he was in a car with other people in the area of Savage's killing. The people were: Terence PoIson, Polson's wife and Asquez's girlfriend. Only PoIson was seen by the police. Why were the other people in the car not approached for evidence? Why were they not called to give evidence at the inquest? Why were Asquez's workmates at the bank, who had been discussing the events with Asquez on the day after the shootings, not called to give evidence about what Asquez had said?
Fifthly, why was Major Randall, to whom Asquez gave his statement, not called to the inquest? Major Randall denies that he pressurised or offered money to Asquez. His evidence of what Asquez said so soon after the shootings would have cast some light on Asquez's subsequent 'confusion'. Randall was willing to appear at the inquest but was told he would not be needed.
The Asquez mystery will probably never be solved. However, given the known threats and pressures on other witnesses, it is more than likely that he was terrified or pressurised in some other way into casting doubt on his original statement. This was an enormous boost for the British government. As an added bonus, the case was used to launch an 'inquiry' into the Death on the Rock programme, the only serious journalistic challenge about the killings which the government had faced.
There was one further general problem facing several of the civilian witnesses. lt was the problem of witnesses who try to tell the truth when put up against well-drilled and disciplined liars. As they had nothing to gain and much to lose by continuing to give 'inconvenient' testimony, it can be assumed that the civilian witnesses with evidence contradicting the SAS tried to be as truthful as possible at the inquest. A truthful witness, particularly a civilian untrained in observation and recollection, will often admit uncertainty about what they saw. Several witnesses with powerful testimony were thus forced to admit uncertainties about some aspects of their evidence.
As the government lawyers were well aware, such uncertainty inevitably devalues their testimony in a court. But the SAS faced no such problems. Because they lied consistently all the way through they were never uncertain. It is worth recording some of Soldier A's evidence. He was grilled by both Paddy McGrory and the jury foreman about the aggressive movement he claimed to have seen Farrell make just before he shot her.
Paddy McGrory: If she heard it (the first shot at McCann) it's possible it would be very startling?
Soldier A: It's a possibility.
McGrory: And people who are startled can jump?
Soldier A: I would presume so, sir, yes. But it was not a jump; it was a movement of the bag across the body.
JuryForeman: When you say that Farrell made an aggressive movement, could you describe that movement as a sudden movement?
Soldier A: A sudden move?
Foreman: I just want a straight yes or no: when you say that Farrell made an aggressive movement, could you describe the movement as sudden instead of aggressive?
Soldier A: To me, at that time, it looked an aggressive move.
Foreman: Could you also describe it as a sudden movement?
Soldier A: It was very sharp.
Foreman: Would you agree that such a movement could also be described as a startled movement?
Soldier A: The movement I saw, I believe, was a sudden, quick movement, like a violent move. That is the best I can explain it.
Foreman: Would you agree that sudden movement could also be described as a startled movement?
Soldier A: It didn't strike me as startled. I would describe startled as jumping, as if with shock. This was not.
It is hard to believe that Soldier A is talking about a small movement of Mairead Farrell's arm. From what he claims was several metres' distance he could distinguish between an aggressive and a startled movement. This is the certainty of a well-drilled liar.
It contrasts with the way in which civilian witnesses did their best to give truthful evidence. Thus, for example, Mrs Celecia gave evidence that she heard gunshots and saw McCann and Farrell on the ground. Then she heard further shots and saw a man by the bodies with his hands extended down. The government's lawyers wanted to o'iscredit this evidence that the two were shot on the ground by suggesting that what she had heard was not a second burst of shots fired into the two, but the sound of Sean Savage being shot further down the road.
Lawyer: Could they have come from further down Smith Dorrien Avenue, the shots you heard?
Lawyer: I must formally put it to you that you never saw anybody being fired upon while they were lying on the ground; you never saw anybody being shot while they were on the ground.
Celecia: These people were lying on the ground, and I could hear the sounds coming from that direction.
Lawyer: Is it not possible that these bangs were coming from further up the road?
Celecia: I can't tell that.
Lawyer: You cannot say?
Lawyer: In reality they could be, couldn't they?
Celecia: Of course they could.
Mrs Celecia admitted that they could have come from further up the road but still maintained that they had come from where the two were lying. But, as Soldier A knew very well, to admit to 'could be's' in a courtroom is disaster. These 'uncertainties' were exploited to the full by the government lawyers.
'All over the world, wherever there are capitalists, freedom of the press means freedom to buy up newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fake "public opinion" for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.'
From the moment the Gibraltar Three were butchered on Sunday 6 March the British media, with a handful of exceptions, followed in the government's footsteps as it moved to cover up its criminal deed.
The first stage consisted of gung-ho bragging about how the 'heroes of the SAS' (Sun) had foiled an IRA bombing and killed the three in a shoot-out. The style was strictly 'Gunfight at the OK Corral'. 'A fierce gun battle broke out' (ITN). The BBC and The Independent also referred to a 'shoot-out'. Today wrote of 'shooting' breaking out. The Scottish Daily Record spoke of 'a gun battle'.
The Sun even uncovered an anonymous eyewitness who reported that the three were armed. Today also found the same witness.
All the media, printed and broadcast, were agreed that there was a 500lb bomb. It was defused by a robot (ITN 12.30pm 7 March - just three hours before Howe told Parliament that there was no bomb). It was defused by the RAF (Daily Mail). 'A controlled explosion failed to set off the bomb' (Daily Mirror). It was 'remote control' (Today and The Independent).
It was on a 'video timing device' (Daily Mirror). The type of explosive used indicated ETA involvement (BBC).
The only drawback to all these stories, of course, was that there was no bomb and the three were unarmed. By 10pm on Sunday night the MOD was officially refusing to confirm the bomb stories. The MOD had also confirmed that there were no reports of guns being found on the bodies. Only Irish newspapers carried this fact.
Unwilling to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story, the BBC was still referring to a car bomb half an hour after Howe's statement. The initial stories fed to the media from official sources had been so grossly untrue that The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph were moved to complain. After all, how can they be expected to bamboozle the public effectively if they are shown to be printing such nonsense?
Many of the newspapers were less fussy and, despite their own role in printing completely false accounts of the killings, they did not hesitate later to accuse the Thames Television programme Death on the Rock of distortion.
One interesting feature of the early coverage, however, is that some reports stated that the SAS had shot the three without warning. 'Policemen jumped out of a car and shot to kill without warning at the head and chests of the suspected terrorists' (Daily Mirror). The independent also reported witnesses who could not remember any challenge.
Others were more conscious of the needs of their masters. The Sun quoted the same witness as the Daily Mirror but left out the words 'without warning'. The BBC repeatedly asserted that the three had been challenged.
Immediately after Howe's statement most of the media switched their attention to their favourite sport - hunting the mystery bomber. Evelyn Glenholmes was, as always, the first choice. 'Sister of Blood' said the Daily Record. An Irish journalist has revealed that he was told that Glenholmes was first chosen because 'We have a nice picture of her and she won't sue". Other contenders followed: Mary Parkin, Owen Coogan, Patrick Ryan and Peter Rooney.
The Guardian, The Independent and the Daily Telegraph did run questioning reports and leaders in the weeks after the killings but it was not until Death on the Rock was screened that a really incisive, closely-argued thoroughly-researched investigation appeared.
This programme, made to the highest standards of investigative reporting, showed that the three were tracked all the way to the Gibraltar/Spain border and handed over to British intelligence; that they were shot without warning; that they were finished off on the ground; that two at least appeared to be surrendering; that it was highly unlikely that they could have detonated a bomb by remote control even if there had been a bomb in the car; that the car could not reasonably have been thought to contain a bomb. It was a devastating critique of the government case and pointed clearly to the verdict 'shoot-to-kill' although the programme did not draw this conclusion, merely arguing for a public inquiry.
The press, again with a handful of exceptions, responded to this message by trying to shoot the messenger. First they went for a key witness: Carmen Proetta. Significantly, at this stage, there was no questioning of Kenneth Asquez's anonymous evidence. 'Shame of the SAS smear girl' (Star); 'Trial by TV Carmen is Escort Girl boss' (Daily Express); 'The Tart of Gib' (Sun). Carmen Proetta was now a lying ex-prostitute who had voted against remaining British in a referendum and was married to a criminal. Proetta has already been awarded substantial damages against the Sun and is also sueing the Daily Star, Daily Express, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Daily Mirror.
She had severed her purely formal connection with the escort agency Eve International three years previously. She had never been a prostitute. She had not voted at all in the referendum. Her husband was facing charges but this is hardly evidence of her lack of credibility. Indeed she works as a legal translator in the courts on the Costa del Sol.
The Death on the Rock team had checked Proetta's background and that of the other witnesses. They found nothing to question her credibility. They had also checked that it was possible for her to have seen what she said she had seen. They also asked Lt Col George Styles to sit in on the interview with Proetta and give his own judgement on her evidence. Styles was asked if he thought her evidence was accurate and credible. In an untransmitted section of transcript he replied: 'Oh, I think so, yes. Exactly. And she was very coherent about it all too, and shocked.' Styles was then asked why he was sure:
'Well, we had walked the course before, hadn't we? We'd seen the marks on the petrol pumps, we'd heard the descriptions of other people, about people jumping over railings, and it all fits into the general impression that we formed at the time, you know. And her evidence was just corroboration really.'
Not only was Proetta's account credible but also it fitted other accounts and physical evidence such as the bullet marks on the petrol pumps.
The Sunday Times, heavily briefed by the MOD, devoted two successive issues, 1 and 8 May, to rubbishing the programme and Proetta's evidence (but not Asquez's). They claimed that other witnesses rejected Proetta's evidence. All the other witnesses have since denied this and witness Stephen Bullock has said that the Sunday Times misrepresented him and that the newspaper's story was 'a complete load of nonsense'.
The Sunday Times claimed that George Styles was angry with Thames Television and that his evidence had been distorted. Styles has since written to Thames denying this. His criticisms all concerned minor points of detail. In so far as Styles' account was edited by Thames it was to remove Styles' detailed speculation that the killings were a deliberate ambush set in train by the signal of a police siren.
So intent was the Sunday Times on bolstering the government case that one of its key journalists on the story, who has since resigned, made public her unhappiness over the way in which the Sunday Times used her reports. She has said that accounts of her interviews with witnesses were 'inaccurate' in the Sunday Times and 'had the effect of discrediting parts of the documentary (Death on the Rock) and the evidence of another witness, Carmen Proetta'. Although she complained to her editor 'some of the mistakes appeared again the following week'.
A crucial part of Styles' evidence was that it was unlikely that the three could have detonated a bomb from the Shell garage. The Death on the Rock team checked this point directly and indirectly with a number of other experts including Lt Col Hugh Heap, British Army Headquarters, Lisburn.
All the experts were agreed that the IRA had never attempted to detonate a remote controlled bomb out of line of sight or at such a distance. Some thought that such a detonation was technically impossible. Others thought it was technically possible but would require a substantial aerial mounted on the car. There was no such aerial on the car. Styles' evidence was beyond reasonable dispute.
Before the inquest there was no press attack on the evidence of Kenneth Asquez nor on the detailed evidence regarding Spanish surveillance. But when Asquez 'retracted' his evidence and official witnesses perjured themselves by claiming that Spanish surveillance had broken down, the press had a field day.
The detailed evidence of Spanish surveillance up to the border used in Death on the Rock came from Sr Manuel Jimenez Cuevas (Spanish police spokesperson) and Sr Augustin Valladolid (Ministry of Interior spokesperson). The Spanish police provided cars and drivers, a helicopter and pilot for the reconstruction of the surveillance. Harry Debelius, a highly- respected correspondent who works for, among others, the Times, was present at the briefings and produced a sworn affidavit confirming the evidence in the programme.
Up until the inquest all reports referred to the success of the Spanish surveillance. Howe thanked the Spanish authorities in his Commons statement. The Times, 8 March, reported the surveillance 'the SAS team watched...as a terrorist went across the border...'. The Times repeated this on 4 July - after Death on the Rock. The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian all carried similar accounts at various times. As late as 4 September the Sunday Times was still reporting on the effectiveness of the Spanish surveillance.
As soon as the official story changed, however, they all fell into line and criticised Death on the Rock for carrying the same story as they had. They did not, of course, criticise themselves.
A similar sequence took place with Asquez. Asquez's retraction was so confused, contradictory and implausible that it would not, in any other context, have been believed. But it was good enough for the British press.
Asquez's original statements, however, had been coherent and credible. They contained details which were not otherwise reported until the inquest itself - details which he could not have made up. They were also consistent with the pathologist's evidence and the strike marks found near Savage's body. Asquez's account had also been used by some of the very papers who were now attacking Thames for using it.
The Independent, following Asquez's appearance at the inquest, loftily denounced Thames for using such unreliable evidence as Asquez's original unsigned statement. Yet The Independent, on 13 and 14 May, had used, in a garbled form, the very same unsigned statement except that, unlike Thames, they had never seen the statement, sworn or unsworn, signed or unsigned. When The Independent was challenged on this rather inconsistent approach, they initially denied ever having used Asquez's original evidence.
Ignoring their own appalling journalism the press joined the government outcry against the only decent journalistic investigation into the Gibraltar murders. Suddenly Death on the Rock was a pack of lies. So successful was the outcry that an inquiry under Lord Windlesham was set up to investigate the making of the programme. Lord Windlesham is an interesting choice to head an investigation into a programme about the SAS killing IRA volunteers. Windlesham is an ex-Chair of the Tory Bow Group, ex-Home Office Minister and ex-Northern Ireland Office Minister.
After a four-month intensive inquiry Windlesham's Report, to the dismay of the government and its allies, vindicated Death on the Rock. 'The programme makers were experienced, painstaking and persistent. They did not bribe, bully or misrepresent those who took part'. The government responded with a sweeping rejection of Windlesham's conclusion.
Further proof of the high quality of Death on the Rock is that it won the BAFTA documentary award and an award from the Broadcasting Press Guild.
There will of course be no inquiry into the newspapers which, whilst attacking Death on the Rock, were themselves guilty of lying, sensationalism and toeing the government line. In general the British media's response to the Gibraltar killings has been an object lesson in the correctness of Lenin's definition of freedom of the press in capitalist society.
The Sun, Today, the Times and the Sunday Times all played a prominent part in the attack on Death on the Rock and in defending the killings. All are owned by Rupert Murdoch. The Daily Record, Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror did their bit. They are all owned by Robert Maxwell. Both Maxwell and Murdoch are investing heavily in satellite television. Their future profitability is crucially dependent on deregulation of television. Not surprisingly their attack on Death on the Rock was also part of their propaganda against the existence of the IBA. Thus they could serve the government and their own pockets at the same time.
The attack on Death on the Rock served to distract attention from the real question of government-directed murder in Gibraltar and soften up 'public opinion' for the ban on broadcasting interviews with Sinn Fein. It is part of both a specific campaign to cover up another SAS killing and a general campaign to eliminate all serious questioning or critical reporting of what the British government is up to in Ireland.
Throughout the British media, with few exceptions, have indeed fabricated 'public opinion' 'for the benefit of the bourgeoisie'.
Perhaps the last word can be left to a right-wing commentator, Auberon Waugh, writing in a right-wing magazine, The Spectator:
'This is part of a general resentment against the idea that public actions should be open to any scrutiny beyond the ministry hand-out and the unattributable briefing, slavishly and uncritically reported - sometimes even presented as an "exclusive" insight.
'[Asquez] claimed that the lie was told in response to pressure from Thames Television. It is normal practice when a witness admits to having lied, to ask what reason there is to believe his revised version - whether he might not now be giving false evidence in response to pressure from another source. At the very least, his evidence tends to be taken with a pinch of salt. But not, it would appear, by the poodles...
'So now we come to "the heart of the standards and ethics of broadcasting journalism", advertised by The Sunday Times as being the main question raised by the Gibraltar inquest. Personally I should have thought that main issue is whether or not we have a Prime Minister who, like Henry II, reckons she can send murder gangs galloping across Europe.'
(1 October 1988)
Farrell and McCann lie dead in the street. The faces were blocked out on the negative of this photograph by the Gibraltar police. Photograph by Mr Celicia.
Added to all the other obstacles placed in the way of finding out the truth about Gibraltar must be the rules and conduct of the inquest itself.
The rules governing the inquest were effectively another weapon in the government arsenal. They already had everything else - limitless resources of money and experts, the press, the threats to witnesses, the Public Interest Immunity Certificates, the absence of the Spanish evidence. And finally, on top of all this, the families faced the absolutely unequal contest of the inquest.
It should be noted that the families of the three had no legal aid. This is the case with inquests. Not only did this mean that they had to find the money to get to and maintain themselves in Gibraltar but also all the legal bills and the cost of flying out witnesses. Whilst the government spent millions of pounds of taxpayers money shoring up their case, the families were at a complete disadvantage. For example, after one of the families' expert witnesses had left Gibraltar, the Crown recalled one of their own witnesses to testify on difficult and technical matters. McGrory had no expert to advise him. According to Inquest's[*] report on the inquest, it was strongly suggested that the reason was a financial one.
Four days before the inquest began, the price of a transcript of each day's proceedings was raised from 50p per sheet to £5. A day's transcript could be at least 100 pages, that is £500 per day. The Ministry of Defence ordered five copies, that is more than £50,000 worth for the whole inquest. But the families could not afford one copy. Yet to be able to consult the official version of evidence is, of course, vital. It is worth asking why the Gibraltar Attorney General felt it necessary to raise the price of the transcript.
The screening and anonymity of government witnesses was accepted. Not only the SAS but also M15 officers and even some of the Gibraltar police were hidden behind screens. This made it very difficult for observers to judge the demeanour of the witnesses and therefore assess their truthfulness. Already this previously unheard-of practice has become standard. The inquest into the shoot-to-kill victims of 1982 thus had witnesses screened from view.
The selection of the jury was such that two senior civil servants of Higher Executive Officer grade were on it. One of them was foreman. The Coroner rejected the families' lawyers' arguments that there should be no jury given the extent of adverse publicity about the case and witnesses. He also rejected efforts to have people in Crown service rejected.
Although the govemment/SAS lawyers had access to the statements of all the witnesses, the families' lawyers had no advance access to the statements of the military/security personnel. The lawyers were therefore forced to question these witnesses without the possibility of advance preparation. Barrister Paddy McGrory had little warning of which witnesses were to be called or what they would say. Inevitably this led to certain points being missed which could have influenced the jury.
The powerful role of Coroner's officer at the inquest was given to Detective Chief Inspector Correa. It also happened that Correa was appointed officer in charge of the police investigation into the killings. For a police officer from the force involved in the operation to play such a key role in both the inquest and the police investigation is bad enough. Correa would have had access to and knowledge of all witness statements and other evidence. The situation is even worse than it appears since it has now become known that Correa was given the role of investigator by the Gibraltar police before the operation was carried out, that is, before there was anything to investigate. Correa was part of the Gibraltar police team for the operation and may even have attended briefings about it. Yet the Ministry of Defence claims that Correa was completely unaware of the operation against the three until it was over!
The Coroner ruled out an open verdict. This meant that the jury had no choice other than lawful or unlawful killing. The Coroner told the jury that unless they were satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the verdict was unlawful killing then it had to be lawful killing. Further the Coroner directed the jury that they must not make recommendations or add a rider to their verdict. Yet this is one of their rights.
Further, the Coroner put unreasonable pressure on the jury to reach its verdict. The jury was sent out at 11.30am. At 5.20pm, less than six hours later, the Coroner recalled them and told them it was 'reaching the edge' of what was a reasonable time to reach a verdict. Less than six hours to consider three-and-a-half-weeks of evidence, much of it contradictory and technical. He appeared to give them an ultimatum that they must reach a verdict by 7pm. In fact it was their right to take as long as they needed to consider the case, especially given the foreman's statement that they were deadlocked. However, the pressure worked and a majority verdict was reached by 7.15pm.
According to observers at the inquest the unreasonable behaviour of the Coroner on the last day was in marked contrast to his previous behaviour. It is reported that the government lawyers were applying pressure and had said that they would seek to get the jury discharged if there was no verdict by 7.15pm. This would have meant another inquest.
The government and its lawyers must have been seriously alarmed by the report that the jury was deadlocked. Everything rested on the jury reaching the verdict the government had worked for six months to achieve. If necessary they would have faced a new inquest rather than a verdict of unlawful killing. Hence the pressure they reportedly exercised to get a verdict by 7pm.
Mr Pizzarello's prediction of a flawed inquest was true in more senses than he had meant. Yet this unequal contest was, as the British government determined, to be the only inquiry into three murders.
[*] - 'The Gibraltar Inquest Report' by Jill Tweedie, published by Inquest.
Despite everything the British government did - the pressure on witnesses, the Public Interest Immunity Certificates, the attacks on the press - despite all this, two jurors refused to go along with a verdict of lawful killing. Even at the inquest, flawed as it was, the truth was powerful enough to occasionally break through the fog of government lies.
THE COLD TRUTH OF SCIENCE
The forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsies and appeared at the inquest was Professor Alan Watson. Watson complained of the obstacles he had faced in conducting the post-mortems. He was unhappy with the photographs sent to him, and had not seen the ballistics report or the fully-clothed bodies. In addition he said that he had not had the standard technical assistance and there had been no X-rays. All of this had made it more difficult for him to determine the direction of the shots, the distance from which they were fired and whether the three were standing or lying down when they were shot.
He and other witnesses faced further difficulties arising from the fact that the standard scene-of-crime procedures had not been followed in this case. The scene was improperly preserved; bodies were removed without being photographed in situ; bodies were stripped before the Coroner saw them; cartridges were removed from the scene.
Watson detailed the appalling injuries suffered by the three and his evidence of how these injuries could have been inflicted flatly contradicted the evidence of the SAS soldiers:
MAIREAD FARRELL According to the SAS, Soldiers A and B remained behind Farrell and McCann whilst they shot them and this was the pattern of fire: Soldier A fired one round into Farrell's back, Soldier B fired another round into her back and then several more rounds into her.
Farrell ended face down on the ground. But Watson testified that both of the bullets which hit her in the head entered through her face.
This meant that she was fired on from the front or side. He concluded that she was first shot in the head whilst facing the gun and then was hit by further bullets to her back:
'If it had been the other way round, the three shots in the back would almost certainly have knocked her to the ground and she would have had to turn her face back towards him'
In other words, Soldiers A and B's stories cannot be true. There is no way she could have been shot in the face from behind as A and B maintained. Furthermore the wounds in her back, according to Watson, indicated that they had been fired from the same gun, at close range (powder burns on her jacket indicated she was shot from as little as three feet away) and whilst she was falling to the ground or face down on the ground. The explanation which fits both her injuries and witness statements is that having been shot in the face she fell to the ground stunned and had three bullets fired into her back at close range.
DANIEL MCCANN According to the SAS the pattern of fire was: Soldier A fired one round into McCann's back, then a further three rounds - one to the body and two to the head. Soldier B claimed he fired an unknown number of rounds into McCann.
McCann, like Farrell, ended face down on the ground. Professor Watson testified that one of McCann's head wounds was superficial, possibly caused by a ricochet or a bullet coming out of Farrell's body. It was the other head wound which caused the major brain damage. According to Watson, it was fired from behind. Paddy McGrory asked him: 'What about this one at the back of the head? Is the explanation or the only explanation for that that he just had to be lying down when that was inflicted or at least very low down?' - Watson replied: 'Yes, I think so. That is my explanation. It suggests that the chest wounds came before the head wound.'
Later witnesses were to testify that they had seen the SAS standing over McCann and Farrell and heard gunfire. Professor Watson's evidence supports this. Both McCann and Farrell were shot to the ground and then shot again to finish them off.
SEAN SAVAGE According to the SAS they were moving towards Savage when they heard gunfire (McCann and Farrell being shot). Soldier C shouted a warning and Savage turned towards them. Soldier D fired straight into the front of Savage and then fired a further eight rounds. Soldier C fired several rounds. They claimed that the force of the shots caused Savage to corkscrew to the ground and that shots entered his head just before it hit the ground.
Savage fell face upwards onto the ground. Professor Watson described Savage's wounds as 'like a frenzied attack'. Paddy McGrory asked Profesor Watson: 'So the scenario that fits your evidence as an expert, and this evidence here, is that he was brought down, possibly from the back, and then four bullets fired into his head?' Professor Watson replied: 'That is right. He may have had one of these in the face; he may have been facing and...turned round, and fallen to the ground and had these others.' Later, in an interview he was to say:
'It looks to me as though he was probably shot down and then, whilst on the ground, other shots were put into him.'
Three of the bullets that entered Savage's head as he lay on the ground left clear strike marks on the pavement underneath. Spent cartridges were found about four feet to the right of his head. The pathologist acting for the family, Professor Derrick Pounder, supported Watson's view that Savage had been shot whilst on the ground and stated that in his view the bullets had been fired by someone standing at Savage's feet.
The SAS story that Sean Savage was facing them as they fired is contradicted by the fact that five bullets hit him in the back. Both pathologists testified that his wounds indicated that he was shot in head whilst on the ground. The pattern of strike marks on the ground made this clear. For bullets to leave strike marks around where Savage's head had lain must mean they were fired from above and hit the ground.
Savage, like Farrell and McCann, was finished off by the SAS as he lay dying on the ground. That was the verdict of science at the inquest despite the obstacles that had been placed in the way of the pathologists.
THE BOMB THAT NEVER WAS
O had told the inquest that the British believed the IRA would use a remote controlled device in Gibraltar. British reasoning, according to O, was that the IRA would not risk repeating the civilian casualties caused by the Enniskillen bomb which had contained a timer device. Quite how this ties in with the British reason for shooting the three - that they were about to trigger a remote controlled bomb in a public street full of Sunday strollers - O did not care to say. As it happens the bomb found in Spain, and alleged to be the one which would have been used in Gibraltar, had a timer device.
The non-existent remote controlled bomb figured large in the British case for shooting the three. Indeed, listening to British evidence at the inquest, it was sometimes difficult to recall that the bomb in Gibraltar never existed.
Given that so much of the case rested on the British 'belief' in the bomb, it is worth noting the scientific testimony on the question at the inquest. Dr Michael Scott, an electronics expert, testified that to detonate a remote controlled bomb required pushing two separate switches. Moreover, he said, if the device was prepared to the point that only one push would set off the bomb there were obvious dangers of accidental detonation. In other words had the three carried a bomb with them, it would have been unlikely to have been of a sort that would require a simple push of a button. Yet it was this 'going for the button' that Soldiers A to D all thought they saw. Moreover, as it is easy to accidentally trigger such a one-stage device, shooting the person carrying it could have triggered it.
Dr Scott added a further point: a bomb in the Changing of the Guard area could not have been set off from where the suspects were shot, one and a half miles away. To do so the signal would have had to travel through blocks of flats, 40-feet thick city walls, a castle, part of the edge of the rock of Gibraltar and many houses. Dr Scott had tried to transmit such a signal and failed and said categorically that it was impossible. He also pointed out that Soldier G (who had examined Savage's car and reported it to be a suspect car bomb because it had an aerial) would have only needed to unscrew the aerial to make it unable to receive a remote controlled signal and therefore make it safe.
The authoritative evidence of Dr Scott worried the British considerably so they brought in two witnesses of their own. The first was Captain Mark Edwards of the Royal Corps of Signals who was asked on the night of Scott's evidence to do various tests around Gibraltar. He conducted tests from various sites in Gibraltar to see if a voice transmission and a single tone signal could be received in the guards assembly area. Even with the luxury of time and no pressure, he had to revisit one third of all the test sites because of problems he faced in getting a signal through. He had to try using two frequencies and power ratings. By perming the frequencies and power ratings he still found that in some areas the signal did not come through, in some it was broken and in some it was successfully transmitted. From the Shell Garage where Mairead Farrell and Daniel McCann were shot, he found that using one frequency he could not get through at all and on the second frequency and power rating he got through with voice and a single tone. Further up the road he could not get through except with an intermittent tone. The obvious point is that if it is so unreliable to send a signal, then it makes it even more unlikely that Farrell or McCann would have committed instant suicide in the vague hope of getting a signal through.
Whereas Captain Edwards admitted he knew nothing about bombs, only signals, the second witness Alan Feraday, Principal Scientific Officer in the Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment, seemed not to know a great deal about signals. He got himself into a mess by saying that although Dr Scott was theoretically correct that removing the car aerial would make a bomb safe:
'I think it would be an extremely foolish thing to do. First of all, that is absolutely and completely against all explosive ordnance disposal procedures and teaching to the army. Long ago it was found at cost in Northern Ireland that walking up to any suspect device or suspect item was a foolish thing to do, and remote means are used.'
But of course this was precisely what SAS Soldier G had done - he had walked up and examined the car and its aerial!
Secondly he was forced to admit that the IRA would have used a signal encoder device which would have made the remote control detonator even bulkier to carry'. Captain Edward's tests were done without using this device, the equipment which would actually be used to detonate a bomb.
Thirdly, Feraday had to admit that even if a signal could get through from one position, the bomber might only have to take a few steps to put himself in a position where the signal could not get through.
The British, who have spent many years developing anti-bomb expertise, cannot have been ignorant of these points at the time of the shootings. Nor can they have been ignorant of the fact that the IRA has never exploded a remote controlled bomb out of sight of the bomb. The catastrophic possibilities involved in exploding a device out of sight are too great and it is not done.
The SAS are highly trained to respond to such situations. Their rules of engagement allow them to shoot if they have a reasonable belief that their or other lives are in imminent danger. In Gibraltar their belief that the three were all going for a button was extremely unreasonable.
THE SIGNAL FOR THE AMBUSH
There was one factor which was common to many of the witnesses' evidence, both civilian and police. This was the question of the sounding of a police siren some seconds before the shooting of McCann and Farrell. SAS Soldier A claimed that he heard the police siren just after he had finished shooting Farrell and McCann. However, other witness are virtually unanimous in their having heard the siren seconds before Soldiers A and B started firing. Surveillance officers M, H, I, K, L, Special Branch Officer P, off-duty PC Parody, both the Proettas and Victor Adams all heard the police siren go off a second or two before they heard shots fired.
The significance of this did not become clear at the inquest but has since become very obvious. At the inquest Inspector Luis Revagliatte claimed that he and other police officers were at the traffic lights in Smith Dorrien Avenue on routine patrol when a message came through from the police station saying they must return there immediately and urgently. Revagliatte instructed his driver to pull out of the line of traffic and to drive down Winston Churchill Avenue (that is, past the Shell Garage where McCann and Farrell were shot). The driver put on the siren and flashing light. Revagliatte claimed that he knew nothing of the pursuit of the three that was going on that day. As they drove past the Shell Garage, the police occupants of the car claimed they heard shots and returned to the Shell Garage.
All this sounded rather strange at the inquest. Several witnesses testified that it was the turning on of the siren that had startled McCann and Farrell and made them look round. Seconds later they were dead. Even during the inquest observers were asking why should the Gibraltar police, aware that orders had been given to apprehend the three and that the operation was underway, ask the police car closest to the scene to return to the station? Why should these officers have been on 'routine patrol' in the very area which was crawling with MI5 watchers, SAS men, Special Branch police and others without knowing what was to take place? And if the Gibraltar police were too short of manpower to evacuate the suspected bomb area why did they still have routine patrols flitting about? Are we to believe that Sunday afternoons in Gibraltar are sufficiently packed with illegal incidents to routinely require police inspectors to be driving around?
It all sounded rather thin. The suspicion was of course that the siren was the agreed signal for the start of the operation. But this could not be proved at the inquest. However, evidence has now come to light that does give heavy backing to the belief that the siren was an agreed signal. Inspector Revagliatte did not tell the whole truth to the inquest. He left out one significant fact. On Sunday 6 March he just happened to be the head of the Gibraltar police firearms team for the operation.
It is a fact that several armed Gibraltar police were part of the operation on 6 March. And where was their boss, Inspector Revagliatte, as they readied themselves for action? According to him, he was blissfully unaware that they were doing anything at all and was out on a routine Sunday patrol.
Nothing of the official role of Inspector Revagliatte was heard at the inquest. Instead they heard the cock-and-bull routine patrol, siren accident story. Of all the stories from the Gibraltar killings, Revagliatte's is the hardest to swallow. It is quite unbelieveable that the head of the firearms team should not know what was going on and yet should just happen to be cruising past in his car and switch on his siren a second before the SAS opened fire.
Revagliatte's official role as head of the firearms group for the operation and the fact that he turned his police siren on as he drove past McCann and Farrell point to only one thing: he gave the signal for an ambush that had been planned and prepared for months.
Several witnesses saw parts of the ambush and were prepared to say so.
Standing at the window of her flat, Carmen Proetta heard a police siren and looked out. She saw a police car stop opposite the garage and saw men get out of it. The men with guns ran towards McCann and Farrell who turned and raised their hands in the air. She heard shots and Farrell fell followed by McCann. She saw a man with a gun pointing down at the bodies and then there were more shots.
Max Proetta saw roughly the same as his wife but additionally recalled that as they watched the shootings Carmen had said to him 'Los estan rematando' ('They're finishing them off').
Mrs Celecia also stuck to her testimony that she had heard shots coming from the direction of where McCann and Farrell lay on the ground with a man standing over them pointing a gun down.
Strange evidence came from Officer I, a member of the British surveillance team. He first told the police that he had seen the two being shot on the ground but at the inquest qualified this by saying 'or in the process of falling'.
Stephen Bullock said that as he and his wife were walking down Smith Dorrien Avenue an armed man pushed between them and joined another armed man. They crouched behind some bushes looking towards Landport tunnel. Then he heard a police siren and gunfire coming from the garage. He saw McCann being shot by a man standing on the road. McCann was falling backwards with his hands raised over his shoulders. Then Bullock looked again at the two armed men he had seen. They were watching the shooting of McCann and Farrell. Then they turned and ran towards Landport tunnel and within a few seconds there was the sound of gunfire from the direction of the tunnel.
Robyn Mordue saw Savage coming towards him and was then pushed to the ground. Whilst on the ground Mordue heard gunfire. He saw Savage falling to the ground and then heard more shots. He saw a man standing over thc body with his gun pointing downwards.
Diana Treacy testifed that she was walking towards Landport when two men came running towards her, one of whom had a gun. She saw the man with the gun shoot Savage in the back without warning and saw Savage fall to the ground. She heard three to five shots and then ran away.
Several witnesses, including non-civilian witnesses, testified that one of the soldiers shooting McCann and Farrell was standing on the road as he fired at them, not behind them. The Proettas and Mrs Celecia testified that they heard gunfire coming from a man standing over the two after they had fallen. Two witnesses saw McCann or McCann and Farrell with their hands up. Their evidence ties in with that of the pathologists far more than does the SAS evidence. It adds further weight to the view that McCann and Farrell were fired on without warning: that Farrell was shot in the face from the side; that the two were shot again after they fell.
It is worth noting that on the day following the shootings the press managed to find many witnesses who confirmed some of the witness testimony at the inquest. At that stage the Gibraltar operation was still seen as a triumph and the press did not know that the three were unarmed. This is what the press said on 7 March, before they realised that they had to be careful:
TIMES: 'Witnesses say that police in plain clothes jumped out of a car and shot a man and woman dead.'
DAILY TELEGRAPH: 'Witnesses said police leapt from a car and shot without warning at the head and chest of gang members.'
THE INDEPENDENT: 'The identity of the men who jumped from a car and shot the trio near a petrol station as they headed towards the border with Spain, remained unconfirmed.'
IRISH TIMES: 'Eye witnesses said...they jumped over railings and fired on Farrell and the two men from a distance of four or five yards.'
Much of this confirms Carmen Proetta's statements but it is known that she is not one of the witnesses referred to in these press statements.
Stephen Bullock saw the two SAS men who shot Savage watch the shooting of McCann and Farrell and then run after Savage. Soldiers C and D who shot Savage claimed that he was alerted by the sound of gunfire as they were following him. Diana Treacy saw Savage shot in the back with- out warning. She heard a maximum of five shots before she ran away. Given that Savage was on the ground when she ran away and was hit by at least sixteen bullets, this can only mean that he was shot several times whilst on the ground. Robyn Mordue heard further shots fired after Savage had fallen. This evidence is consistent with the pathologists' view that Savage was shot whilst on the ground.
So too was the evidence of Kenneth Asquez before he became 'confused'. Asquez's original evidence not only fits the known facts but also contained details not public at the time. For this reason, as well as the dubious nature of his later evidence, his statements should be considered. His original evidence that he had seen a man standing over Savage with his foot on his chest and firing down fits in exactly with both the pathologists' views and with the pattern of strike marks found on the ground where Savage's head had been lying.
A LOSING BATTLE
This was the evidence that was enough to split the Gibraltar jury. It was evidence that, taken with other sources not revealed at the inquest, made clear what actually happened in Gibraltar. The British tracked the three, with Spanish help, to Gibraltar. They watched them every moment they were in Gibraltar. The British knew that there was no bomb which is why they made no efforts to deal with a bomb. The three were not armed, did not resist and did not make 'movements'. The SAS shot them down without warning and finished them off on the ground. There is eyewitness evidence to support this. It is anyway the known modus operandi of the SAS. After the killings the scene ofthe crime was dealt with in a way that would cause maximum difficulty for those trying to piece together what happened.
These are the classic hallmarks of a shoot-to-kill operation. The similarities with the 1982 operations and others are striking. There too intelligence and surveillance led to ambushes. There too the RUC men who did the killings were whisked away to be briefed with a cover story. There too the scene of the crime was, as Stalker stressed, incorrectly preserved. There too press statements were issued which were a tissue of lies. There too the officers concerned told lie after lie and were indeed instructed to do so. There too those trying to investigate met maximum resistance.
The odds against an unlawful killing verdict at the inquest had been too well stacked. The inquest, with all the constraints imposed on it, proved to be as flawed as the Coroner had predicted it would be.
Those who sought to get at the truth in the Gibraltar inquest fought a losing battle. They faced a government that is not only prepared to murder unarmed people but will also go to any lengths to cover up its actions; a government equipped with massive resources and ruthless determination. Witnesses - terrify them. The Spanish government - do a deal. The press - use them for disinformation where possible and where not possible, frighten them. The inquest - tell lies and if in difficulty use Public Interest Immunity Certificates. This is the arrogance of a government that thinks it can do anything it likes.
In Gibraltar the three were murdered in a government-sanctioned ambush. At the moment that Mrs Thatcher, who is legally responsible for the SAS, authorised the use of this assassination squad, she committed murder as surely as if she had pulled the trigger herself. The British government talks loudly of democracy and human rights but uses the methods of fascist death squads. They have done so before in Ireland (and elsewhere) and will do so again. They will do so as long as they are allowed to get away with it. These are the crucial questions raised by the murders: why was there no outcry of protest about them in Britain? Why was the British government quite literally allowed to get away with murder? Who were Thatcher's accomplices?
Mrs Thatcher's assassination squad: the SAS raid the Iranian Embassy in 1980
1 MRS THATCHER AND HER CABINET, particularly Geoffrey Howe and Tom King, who authorised the planned ambush and the use of the SAS in the full knowledge that the three would be shot dead. It is true that Mrs Thatcher's hatred of the IRA knows no bounds. She has seen her close political friend killed by them and she is determined to get revenge. But there is more at issue than the strong feelings of this woman. Since British troops first went into Ireland to try to put down nationalist opposition to the sectarian Six County statelet, state terrorism has been the stock-in-trade of the British government. In the face of a popular, anti-imperialist liberation movement successive British governments have used murder, torture, juryless courts, internment without trial, special repressive laws such as the PTA, daily harassment on the streets.
All of these practices are well-documented. For example in 1976 even the bourgeois European Commission of Human Rights found the British government guilty of torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment of internees. This was modified on appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to simply 'inhuman and degrading treatment'. In 1988 Britain was again found guilty of illegally holding people under the PTA for periods of up to seven days. The British state has built and equipped a formidable machine of repression in the Six Counties. As part of this apparatus it has trained specialist undercover assassination and dirty tricks units. Those of its enemies in Ireland that it cannot intimidate or railroad into prison, the British state is prepared to murder.
So while Mrs Thatcher and her Cabinet must be the first people in the dock, let us not forget all the previous governments, Labour and Tory, which have used identical methods and helped to build the repressive apparatus.
2 NEIL KINNOCK AND HIS LABOUR PARTY. After the Gibraltar killings they joined the celebrations in Parliament. George Robertson, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, praised the security services and said:
'I don't think anybody can afford to be squeamish given the evidence. These bombers don't display much squeamishness for their victims. A major tragedy was averted. We've got to be glad about that.'
In fact even after Geoffrey Howe admitted to the House of Commons that there was no bomb, Robertson was so determined to attack the IRA that he merrily continued to talk of 'this enormous potential bomb... placed opposite both an old folks' home and a school'.
And as the evidence mounted up high enough to show even an idiot that the Gibraltar operation was murder, Labour kept quiet. Their overwhelming loyalty to British imperialism made them blissfully unaware that Mrs Thatcher was vulnerable on this issue and was feverishly acting to protect herself. Had Labour, for once, managed to act like an opposition and raise the issues about Gibraltar, we might not have seen the obscene displays of triumph over the Gibraltar killings at the Tory Party Conference nor heard the chants of 'Ten More Years'.
So into the dock alongside Thatcher and Co must go Kinnock and his timid crew.
3 THE MEDIA. With few exceptions, the most notable being Death on the Rock, the British media not only failed to dig out the truth about Gibraltar but also actively supported the government story. Murdoch's filthy rags, the Sunday Times and Sun, acted as straightforward government mouthpieces spreading lies and attacking witnesses. But what of the others? Where were the hard-hitting investigative pieces? Where was there an ounce of the spirit of enquiry? Again, with one or two exceptions (such as The Observer's Ian Jack), nowhere to be seen. This complacent and cowardly spirit has aided the government in continuing its murderous course in Ireland. It has also aided the government in its general attack on democratic rights. It is, after all, rather difficult to defend democratic rights with a government in power that openly murders people on the streets.
Let us put Murdoch and his crew in the dock.
4 THE GIBRALTAR POLICE. It is clear that they played a much greater part in the planning and execution of the operation than was revealed at the inquest. They played a crucial part in its cover up. Journalists have been told unofficially that all the Gibraltar police involved in the operation have been sworn to secrecy forever.
5 THE SAS OF COURSE. A well-oiled killing squad that gets its orders and carries them out. They are the ones who get their hands dirty. It was interesting to hear Soldiers A to D give evidence at the inquest. Whilst intelligence officers and SAS officers spoke in the well-modulated tones of the British public school, Soldiers A to D had working class accents. The British ruling class does its killing at one remove. The corridors of Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence remain clean.
6 THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT, allegedly a socialist government. Its socialism must be like that of Kinnock, a cowardly subservience to imperialism. They traded the truth about Gibraltar for some military hardware.
These - politicians, military, media - are the murderers of the Gibraltar Three.
It is a crowded dock, is it not? Packed with those who have real power in British society. Packed with those who claim to be the makers of laws and the givers of morality. They live by the morals and laws that suit them: self-interest, lies, murder. Yet they attack the IRA and other liberation movements for using force and military methods. When the SAS opened fire on Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann moved in front of her to protect her. That is morality. When the Irish people fight to free their nation so that their children can grow up decently, be educated, find work and housing - that is morality. When young Irish people sacrifice their freedom and their lives for a future they will not see - that is morality.
It is time that the British progressive movement showed that it rejects the morality of Thatcher and Kinnock. It is time that the Irish people were given effective solidarity both in their interests and in the interests of the British working class.
For twenty years, the British left and working class movement has virtually ignored the Irish question. On the rare occasions that they have not ignored it they have usually spent equal amounts of time condemning the British government and the Irish liberation movement. The consequences have been felt not only in Ireland but also in Britain. Take only the latest example, that of censorship. The British government has been able to impose censorship on the British media broadcasting.interviews with the Republican Movement. The result of this anti-democratic action is that all voices of opposition to British rule in Ireland will find it harder to be heard.
How can the British working class defend its own democratic rights if it fails to defend those of the Irish people? There will be struggles in Britain and there will come a day when many British working class families will have to bury their sons and daughters and face farcical inquests. Will they then remember Gibraltar and bitterly wish that their leaders had done something about it?
The best and most lasting tribute to the Gibraltar Three and all those murdered in Ireland would be a free and liberated Ireland. In Britain, all those who oppose British oppression of Ireland should unite to build an effective movement to demand:
TROOPS OUT NOW!
SELF DETERMINATION FOR THE IRISH PEOPLE!
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