PSNI retracts claim of RUC ‘murder’ in 1973

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke this week described the shooting of Michael Leonard as 'murder'
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke this week described the shooting of Michael Leonard as 'murder'

The PSNI has retracted a claim it made this week that the shooting of a man in Fermanagh in 1973 by the RUC was murder.

According to reference work Lost Lives, the RUC pursued Donegal cattle dealer Michael Leonard, 23, from a shop near the border on May 17 1973, as he was known to be a disqualified driver. An RUC Land Rover bumped the back of his car and sounded the horn 200 yards before the border before opening fire.

An RUC inspector told the inquest that a constable had been instructed to fire high but that the Land Rover took a “violent turn” and that he “accidentally snatched the trigger”.

Troubles researcher Ciaran MacAirt recently reported finding military logs in the Public Records Office which record that three shots were fired and that the Army at the time erroneously recorded that Mr Leonard was an IRA member.

As a result, Attorney General John Larkin has referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions, while relatives of the deceased are pressing for a fresh inquest.

The Irish News reported on Wednesday that, asked about the case, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke said police “understand the suffering the family of Michael Leonard must be going through as they await this review” and that “his murder” is within the caseload of the Legacy Investigation Branch.

However, contacted by the News Letter afterwards, the PSNI clarified that it had been a mistake to describe the shooting as “murder”.

A PSNI spokesman said: “To describe the death of Michael Leonard as a murder in our response to The Irish News was regrettably inaccurate as his case has not yet been reviewed or reinvestigated by our Legacy Investigation Branch. We apologise to the family for any hurt this may have caused to them and will be contacting them to offer to meet them and apologise in person.

“We are aware that a complaint has been made to the police ombudsman regarding Michael’s death and we do not intend to comment further at this time.”

Meanwhile, Ken Funston, advocacy manager with the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said it was “ironic” that state legacy mechanisms are turning to the sole killing by the RUC in Co Fermanagh when almost all 109 terrorist murders in the county remain unsolved.

He said the Army took six lives in the county, four of whom were terrorists on active service, the other two murders for which soldiers were jailed.

“In contrast republicans murdered 104 people and loyalists five. Yet only three republican murders out of 104 were solved and only two loyalist murders.

“And it is only the single shooting by the RUC which is going to be given a full legacy investigation? This is what we are going to get from legacy investigations.”

Mr Larkin declined to offer any comment.