Soldier ‘not justified’ in firing fatal shots: coroner

A soldier who shot and killed a factory night watchman in Belfast in 1972 was “not justified in opening fire” a coroner has ruled.

By Mark Rainey
Friday, 13th May 2022, 7:20 pm
Soldiers on the streets of Belfast in the early 1970s
Soldiers on the streets of Belfast in the early 1970s

Thomas Mills, 56, was killed at the Finlay’s factory on the Ballygomartin Road on July 18.

A soldier had been shot dead by the IRA at Vere Foster school in the area in hours before Mr Mills was killed, and for many years the Mills family believed republicans were responsible for the murder.

However, coroner Joseph McCrisken has stated that a soldier fired the fatal shot, that Mr Mills was not acting in a manner that would have justified him being targeted by the soldier, and that no armed paramilitaries were in the immediate area at the time.

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As a result of his findings, Mr McCrisken believes an offence, or offences, may have been committed by the soldier – identified only as M4 – and that a file will now be prepared for the DPP.

The coroner considered evidence from three civilians who were working at the factory that night, as well as three soldiers, including M4, who all claimed to have seen a gunman at the corner of the factory.

Mr McCrisken said he was satisfied that the accounts of the three soldiers “were not plausible” when examined alongside the civilian evidence, evidence of other soldiers who attended the scene, the pathology evidence, the ballistics evidence, the forensic engineer evidence, the Royal Military Police documentation and the evidence from the military logs.

In a summary of his judgement, the coroner also notes that, from indications on their personnel files, that both M4 and one of the soldiers providing supporting evidence “had poor military records and were discharged in 1974 and 1973 respectively”.

“I am satisfied that there was no gunman in and around the area of Finlay’s factory”.

The coroner said: “Since I am satisfied that there was no gunman in the area I conclude that the accounts provided by M4 and M1 which describe a gunman are inaccurate at best and falsified at worst. I am satisfied that M4 opened fire in breach of the Yellow Card Rules in force at the time. The actions of M4 were completely unjustified as Mr Mills, at the time he was shot, plainly posed no threat to M4 or anyone.

“Any allegation that Mr Mills was carrying a weapon and that he was pointing it in the direction of soldiers is wrong. Mr Mills was not acting in a manner that could reasonably or honestly have been perceived as posing a threat of death or serious injury to M4 or to any other person, nor was he carrying anything that could have been construed as a weapon. For that reason M4 was not justified in opening fire.”