Tyrone village ‘still wounded’ by triple IRA murder 30 years ago

The Tyrone village which witnessed the slaughter of three Protestant ‘characters’ in its busy centre is still deeply wounded by the atrocity after 30 years, it is claimed.

Thursday, 7th March 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th March 2019, 12:55 pm
Leslie Dallas was a European hot rod champion before being murdered with Ernie Rankin and Austin Nelson
Leslie Dallas was a European hot rod champion before being murdered with Ernie Rankin and Austin Nelson

Father-of-two Leslie Dallas, 39, was standing chatting outside his bustling garage with elderly friends Ernie Rankin, 72 and Austin Nelson, 62, when an IRA gang gunned all three down and drove off cheering. The atrocity was 30 years ago today.

The IRA claimed Leslie was in the UVF and alleged his two friends had been killed “in the general confusion”, but police and an inquest dismissed the UVF claims. One local told the Sunday Tribune that Leslie was “a firm loyalist and a good Orangeman, but no gunman”.

A relative of Mr Dallas, who declined to use his name, told the News Letter: “I would like to ask Chief Constable George Hamilton if the file is open or closed for this?”

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Father-of-two Leslie Dallas was gunned down by the IRA outside his bustling garage as he chatted with two friends in the Co Tyrone village of Coagh

He is not aware of the police ever updating the family on the case and dismissed the value of the Historical Enquiries Team report on the case.

“Leslie was a European champion in hot rod racing,” he said. “The colleagues that he raced with still bring his name up today. He was a real character.

“He was targeted because his business was so successful. A good lot of Protestant businessmen who were doing well were taken out.

“Ernie was football mad. His idols were George Best, Norman Whiteside and Raymond McCoy, who played locally. And Austin was a very musical man, who played the accordion and bagpipes.

“Leslie’s family were devastated – and still are. I honestly don’t think the community has ever got over it either.”

His garage was a focal point in the centre of the village. “There was always people calling in. But all that stopped.”

Three IRA men were killed by the SAS in Coagh two years later as they targeted a UDR man. According to reference work Lost Lives, one of their rifles was used to kill Leslie.

The relative is deeply concerned about what he sees as the lack of balance in dealing with Troubles murders.

“We hear lots about Pat Finucane but he was not the only lawyer to be murdered. Do we not hear about Lord and Lady Gibson and Edgar Graham because they were murdered by the IRA?”

He cites the £55m recently granted for legacy inquests and calls by Sinn Fein to open up security force files.

But republicans could also give information: “What about the Teebane massacre and the shooting of Leslie’s cousin, Derek Ferguson, in 1991?”

• A service will take place at the site of Leslie’s old garage at 6.30pm today.