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IRA men carry the coffin of Tony Gormley who was killed in the gunfight. PA Archive/Press Association Images
legacy issues

The SAS 'Loughall ambush' which killed 8 IRA men may be investigated

A civilian was also killed in the gunfight which was the biggest single loss of life for the IRA during The Troubles.

Updated 4.34 pm

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT has appointment an independent legal officer to decide if an inquest is needed into a 1987 SAS ambush in Armagh that killed eight IRA operatives and a civilian.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has written to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland (AGNI) John Larkin QC to inform him that the Advocate General is to take a fresh look at the case.

The UK’s Northern Ireland Office said that Villiers took the decision because she believes that there is “material held by the government which is both relevant to the decision whether to open fresh inquests in these cases”.

This information she added is “national security sensitive”.

The ambush occurred in May 1987 when an eight-man IRA unit attacked a RUC barracks in the town of Loughall. The unit had a 200lb bomb in the front of a digger which the crashed through the gate as other members of the unit in an van outside began firing at the station.

British intelligence had prior knowledge of the operation and a 36-man SAS team were waiting in a D-shaped formation around the station. They fired about 1,200 rounds of ammunition killing the eight IRA activists as well as a builder that came upon the scene. Another bystander was also injured in the firefight. It was the biggest single loss of life for the IRA during The Troubles.

Back in July, it was reported that Villiers had blocked the AGNI from looking into the evidnce of the case due to national security concerns. This was condemned by Belfast-based human rights group Committee Administration of Justice as well as Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

But today the Northern Ireland office has said that it was “incorrectly reported by some media outlets that Secretary of State had blocked inquests into these deaths”. 

They claim that Villiers merely wanted to ensure that “the appropriate law officer is able to take the decision”. In this case the Advocate General Jeremy Wright QC as opposed to the AGNI.

Wright also holds the poisition of he Attorney General for England and Wales and the Northern Ireland Office says that “he will make a decision independent of government”.

Reacting to today’s announcement, Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew said that any inquest into the ambush must have “full disclosure” from the British Government.

“The families of the dead men deserve to know the true circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones so any new inquest must have full disclosure from the British Government including files that they claim are sensitive,” she said.

Gildernew added that, if the British Army knew of the attack in advance, it should have attempted to stop it rather than planning the ambush:

There is no doubt that the British Army and RUC had prior warning of an attack on Loughgall RUC barracks in May 1987. However, rather than mount a stop and arrest operation the British army and RUC carried out an ambush which resulted in the deaths of eight IRA volunteers and one civilian and serious injury to another civilian.

Read: On this day 20 years ago, the IRA announced its ceasefire >

Read: How the British and Irish governments are looking for the Disappeared… >

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