Bafflement at move to re-ignite criminal probe against RUC men

The funeral of IRA man Colm Marks taking place in Newry in April 1991.
The funeral of IRA man Colm Marks taking place in Newry in April 1991.

A call by the Attorney General for prosecutors to reconsider whether police officers should face criminal charges over the death of an IRA man has been condemned by unionist figures.

The UUP said victims will view the move as evidence of a “two-tier” approach to investigating the Troubles which leaves innocent victims behind, while the DUP pledged to resist any bid to “re-write the past”.

Colum Marks, shot dead by the RUC in Downpatrick in 1991.

Colum Marks, shot dead by the RUC in Downpatrick in 1991.

Colum Marks was shot on April 10, 1991, when it was believed was in the midst of a plan to bomb a Downpatrick police station.

Solicitors for the Marks family have disputed the presence of a mortar device at the scene and the idea that warnings were given, claiming efforts could have been made to apprehend Marks.

An original decision not to prosecute any police officers was made in 1993.

The family of Marks have pressed for a new inquest into his death.

They also attempted to get the Police Ombudsman to investigate, but it declined – a decision lawyers plan to challenge through the courts.

Now the Attorney General has formally asked the PPS to re-think the 1993 decision over prosecution.

A spokesperson for the office of the Attorney General said they would not disclose the reasons why Mr Larkin had called for the review.

They said that it was “a private and quite a sensitive matter in relation to the family, and we’re not going to divulge the rationale behind referring that back to the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

Gavin Booth, lawyer with the firm KRW Law, is representing the family.

He said that the RUC “claimed they saw him walking up the street with a mortar; the mortar was never produced, by a photograph or in any way, to the inquest”.

Mr Booth said Marks was “unarmed” and was “running away”, and he disputed the idea that warnings were given.

He also said there was no residue which would have resulted from transporting a mortar found on Marks.

It was put to him that some people are not very interested in revisiting how a violent paramilitary met his death.

He said: “Basically what we would say in this situation and situations involving any shoot-to-kill operation – because we believe it was a shoot-to-kill operation – is first you try to effect an arrest...

“We believe the opportunity was there and wasn’t taken.”

He said Marks had the same entitlement to “human rights as everybody should have, regardless of membership of an organisation”.

He repeatedly referred to Marks’ death as “murder” and indicated a number of officers, not just one, may be in the frame for potential prosecution.

Tom Elliott, UUP MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said: “I don’t know how the Director of Public Prosecutions makes these decisions. But clearly this is an IRA member; it appears he was involved in some IRA actions throughout his life.

“I am surprised at the Attorney General... It just baffles me the Attorney General’s taken that route.”

Asked what relatives of civilians whose murders have gone unsolved will think of this latest development, he said: “They’re going to see this as a two-tier system – that there’s further inquiries and investigations into an IRA man being shot, whereas there hasn’t been that further investigation and inquiry into their loved ones being shot – who are obviously totally innocent.”

Nigel Dodds, DUP North Belfast MP, said: “We will resist any attempt to rewrite the past and to place a focus solely on the actions of the state.

“Police officers were operating under the most severe threat during the Troubles.

“In this incident, we must never forget that the terrorists set out to murder indiscriminately.”

However, although he has requested the review, Mr Larkin does not have the power to actually order that one takes place.

Instead, it is up to the PPS (headed by Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory) whether to heed his request.