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IMAGINE if it was revealed that 47 years ago, a man who allegedly hijacked a car had been shot dead by police on a busy road in London, yet despite there being many public witnesses, statements were only taken from the four police involved in the shooting, the owner of the hijacked car and one other witness?
Would there not be some concern for the family of the victim, that they have waited too long for answers? Would the mainstream media not be asking MPs from both the government and opposition for comments?
Would there not be a general consensus by all MPs regardless of party that as Britain does not subscribe to a “shoot-to-kill” policy, albeit alleged criminal or not, justice must prevail and the police must not be allowed to act as judge, jury and executioner?
If the answer to all these questions is yes, as it should be, then why is it, if we change the state actors from “British police” to “British soldiers” and the location from London to West Belfast, suddenly it not only appears to be acceptable but MPs who sit in Parliament refuse to help the relatives, remain silent or conspire to prevent the truth coming out thereby preventing justice being done?
Although by no means an isolated case, the incident in question centres around the account given by the British army regarding the death of a 34-year-old Stanislaus Carberry.
On Monday November 13 1972, eight soldiers were on a mobile patrol travelling in two Saracen vehicles with the section commander located in the leading vehicle.
They had been advised to keep a lookout for a blue Vauxhall Viva which had been hijacked from a nearby area.
Having picked up members of another foot patrol, both vehicles, now with a total of 16 soldiers, made their way down the Falls Road in West Belfast back to their base.
The section commander said in a statement that the Saracen he was travelling in was stationary to allow an articulated lorry to turn onto the Falls Road from a side street, and on looking through the side hatch of the Saracen, he saw the registration number of the hijacked vehicle waiting to turn out of a side road, left onto the Falls Road.
Ordering his men out of the vehicle, the statement goes on to say one soldier shouted: “Halt” twice, then he heard the screeching of tyres followed by a low-velocity shot coming from the car as it sped away up the Falls Road in the opposite direction to their Saracen.
One soldier who returned fire claimed the bullet hit the rear left light of the vehicle before ricocheting, causing the front right tyre to burst. Other members of the section fired too, striking the rear window of the car.
The statement alleges that the front passenger door opened and a male slumped out of the car onto the road. By now, the soldiers in the second Saracen, some five or six vehicles behind the first, were out of their Saracen.
Two more low-velocity shots were fired from the driver’s side of the hijacked vehicle before one of the soldiers from the second Saracen returned fire with two more shots towards the car before the vehicle swerved across the road to the left, and only stopped when the front wheel struck the kerb.
A statement by another soldier recorded that after the car stopped, a man got out of the driver’s door carrying a pistol in one hand and a rifle in the other, fell to his hands and knees and made his escape.
No follow-up search was instigated for the second man and no other weapons were recovered from the car.
At first glance it is easy to come to the conclusion that the reaction from the soldiers believing the men were armed members of the IRA were justified.
However, eyewitnesses dispute the account given by the British army and claim Carberry was in fact the driver of the car and not the passenger, and that the soldiers opened fire when he tried to surrender with his hands in the air.
So why was this conflict of accounts not investigated in 1972?
At that time of the incident there was an agreement between the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary that where civilians had been killed by British soldiers, the military police would be responsible for interviewing them.
Despite the soldiers’ statements estimating that there was a crowd of between 50 to 200 watching events unfold, some of whom we now know witnessed the incident, not one of these people was asked to provide a statement.
Due to this lack of transparency by agencies of the British government Carberry’s family hope a civil case they have taken — believed to be the first one against the British army since 2012 — will reveal the circumstances of how their father died.
Having had access to the statements, there are a number of points that I believe need further explanation and I can see the concerns the Carberry family have.
Moreover, this case demonstrates the importance of taking statements from all who witnessed the incident and not just the owner of the car, the section commander and the soldiers who fired the shots.
Those who believe the actions of the security forces during the Troubles should not be reinvestigated claim that members of the public present at the time are not likely to provide unbiased statements.
My answer is to ask could not the same charge not be made against the British army? And isn’t this precisely why it is important to review all those killed in “disputed” circumstances without bias or prejudice?
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