Inquests to be held over deaths of eight IRA men and civilian in SAS operation

1988 'The bullet riddled Hiace van in which 8 IRA men were shot dead by the SAS outside Loughgall RUC station
1988 'The bullet riddled Hiace van in which 8 IRA men were shot dead by the SAS outside Loughgall RUC station

New inquests are to be held into the deaths of eight IRA men and a civilian shot dead by the SAS almost 30 years ago.

The Government had asked the Advocate General for Northern Ireland Jeremy Wright QC to take the decision on whether new probes should be undertaken into the controversial shootings at Loughgall, Co Armagh in May 1987.

Loughgall RUC station in 1988.

Loughgall RUC station in 1988.

The SAS intercepted the IRA unit as they launched an attack on a police station in the village.

Civilian Anthony Hughes, 36, was killed after being caught up in the gunfire.

Mr Wright, who is a law officer independent of Government, said: “Following careful consideration of a huge amount of material I have come to the decision that new inquests into the Loughgall deaths are justified.

“The new inquests will establish who has died, and how, when and where the death occurred. The Coroners Service for Northern Ireland will now take this forward.”

Undated handout photos of the eight-man IRA unit killed in a shoot out with SAS soldiers following the bombing of the Loughgall RUC station, County Armagh, in May 1987

Undated handout photos of the eight-man IRA unit killed in a shoot out with SAS soldiers following the bombing of the Loughgall RUC station, County Armagh, in May 1987

Controversy has long surrounded the ambush with claims the SAS team, reputed to be around 36 strong, continued to fire on a number of the IRA men with heavy machine guns as they lay wounded on the ground.

The IRA members killed were Jim Lynagh, 32; Padraig McKearney, 32; Gerard O’Callaghan, 29; Tony Gormley, 25; Eugene Kelly, 25; Patrick Kelly, 32; Seamus Donnelly, 19; and Declan Arthurs, 21.

Northern Ireland’s senior law officer, Attorney General John Larkin QC, usually makes the decisions on ordering new inquests in the region.

However, the Loughgall case was referred to the Advocate General as it was deemed to touch on issues of national security - matters which are not devolved to Stormont.

Mr Wright said he had informed the bereaved relatives, the Coroners’ Service and Mr Larkin of his decision.