people in Northern Ireland nodded in recognition
when they heard of Jean Charles de Menezes being
shot repeatedly in the head as he lay face-down
and helpless on the floor of a tube train at Stockwell.
They will have recalled Sean Savage, an unarmed
member of the IRA, shot 16 times at point-blank
range by plain-clothes members of the SAS in Gibraltar
in March 1998 after hed put his hands up in
surrender. The SAS immediately claimed, and most
of the media reported as fact, that theyd
believed hed been about to trigger a bomb.
Two other unarmed IRA members were gunned down on
the same occasion.
Although the European Court of Human Rights later
found the killings unlawful, no action was ever
taken against the killers.
old Peter McBride was unarmed, inoffensive and a
member of no political or paramilitary organisation,
walking home one night in north Belfast in September
1992, when two members of the Scots Guards, Fisher
and Wright, chased him along the street before taking
aim and shooting him in the back. They said hed
made a sudden movement and might have
been intent on throwing a coffee-jar bomb.
Their commanding officer, Col. Tim Spicer, told
an army board later that if hed had his way
the killers would have been commended, given back
their rifles and sent out to complete their patrol.
After a huge outcry in Northern Ireland, Fisher
and Wright Fisher were charged and convicted of
murder. Both were released on the orders of Mo Mowlam
after serving two years and taken back into their
regiment, with back pay restored. Fisher has since
been promoted. The pair are now believed to be serving
Their commander, Spicer, now heads the private security
company Aegis, employing mainly ex-soldiers, which
has just won a $293 million contract from the Pentagon
to provide specialist security personnel and
expertise in Iraq.
Kevin McGovern, 19, a student at an agricultural
college, was on his way to a disco in Cookstown,
Co. Tyrone in September 1991, carrying a can of
beer, when a RUC man shot him in the back. The cops
claimed that when challenged by a patrol, he took
up the standard aiming stance for a pistol-revolver.
A policeman charged with murder was acquitted: the
judge found that although his actions were unreasonable,
his belief in that the teenager might have been
about to shoot him was not! The killer was reinstated
in the police.
In the course of the Northern conflict, police and
soldiers have killed 357 people, About 150 of these
were members of Republican paramilitary organisations,
not all of whom were armed at the time. 189 of the
victims were unarmed civilians. The Scots Guards
are the only individuals with murder convictions
as a result of these deaths.
Families and friends of the dead have faced formidable
difficulties in seeking the truth.
Theres the unwillingness or inability of the
political and judicial establishment to accept that
the State condones not just trigger-happy police
and soldiers and occasionally irresponsible behaviour,
but deliberate murder. They shut their minds against
the possibility. Or rather, against admission of
Theres the notion of no smoke without fire,
that for all the apparent innocence of the victim,
he or she must have said or done something to send
out the wrong signal and attract the lethal
attentions of the killers.
Theres the operation of deep-set prejudice
against the category of people from the whom the
victim is most likely to come. In the North, for
example, 86 percent of non-paramilitary civilian
victims of State killings in the last 30 years have
And theres the fact that the media and other
more subtle manipulators of opinion will set out
deliberately to ensure that a false account is first
into the public domain and therefore likely to overshadow
the truth when and if it eventually emerges.
Most important, perhaps, is the insidious idea that,
whatever the truth of a particular incident, to
make much of it is to play into the hands
of the terrorists. Theres a risk of
drawing down the wrath of the State onto oneself---undergoing
the same demonisation and marginalisation which
may have played a part in the killing in the first
As a result, many who will speak up after a State
killing for human rights and against State excess
will take care to explain that they are not blaming
the State generally or challenging the right of
the State to use lethal force to protect the
public. They just want reassurance things
were done properly in this instance. Or if not,
that the mistake will be noted, lessons
They balk at the plain obvious truth of killings
like the killing of Jean Charles de Menezess because
the implication of the truth is that State forces
routinely kill innocent citizens and routinely get
away with it and that any working-class person who
puts trust in the police or army is a fool.