Lawyer for family of soldier shot mother takes on Legacy Bill

A lawyer for the family of a mother-of-six killed by a soldier in a ‘wrongful’ shooting has slammed the government’s controversial bill to address inheritance issues.

An inquest into the death of 47-year-old housewife Kathleen Thompson has concluded she was shot in the chest in Londonderry on November 6, 1971.

The decision came on Wednesday as MPs took part in the first day of committee stage of the Troubles in Northern Ireland (Inheritance and Reconciliation) Bill in the House of Commons.

The coroner’s findings, four years after a new inquest into Ms Thompson’s death, are “a clear illustration that the inquest system is capable of getting to the bottom of the truth for families seeking answers about the deaths of their loved ones”, said his family’s attorney. .

Kathleen Thompson was a housewife and mother of six (PA)

(PA Media)

Fearghal Shiels, of Madden and Finucane Solicitors, insisted that the government’s current inheritance proposals could not have established the proper circumstances of Ms Thompson’s death, describing anyone who thinks so as “living frankly on a another planet”.

The most controversial aspects of the bill are the promise of immunity from prosecution for perpetrators who agree to provide information to a new truth body, and a decision to end civil cases and investigations related to the conflict.

Giving a summary of her decision, Coroner Judge Sandra Crawford said two bullets were fired by a person identified only as Private D into Ms Thompson’s garden in Rathlin Drive, Creggan, as he and others retreated of the region.

She said Ms Thompson was unarmed and was in her back garden banging on a bin lid or other object to alert neighbors to the presence of soldiers in the area.

Private D did not honestly believe that his life and the lives of others were in immediate danger

Judge Sandra Crawford

The shooting of Ms Thompson, whose children were between the ages of seven and 18 at the time, breached guidelines on the use of lethal force provided to soldiers, the coroner said.

Judge Crawford said: ‘His death was caused by a high velocity shot fired by Private D from a position in Southway, Derry, as he and other soldiers retreated from the area.

“Private D did not have a sincere belief that a shot had been fired from the garden of 129 Rathlin Drive and that his life and the lives of others were in immediate danger.”

She said “shooting into a dark garden in a residential area under such circumstances” violated guidelines on the use of lethal force by soldiers.

She found that the soldier had fired two shots into Ms Thompson’s garden “under circumstances which were not justified”.

David and Erne Thompson outside Laganside Courts in Belfast for an earlier inquest hearing (Rebecca Black/PA)

(PA Archive)

Sitting at the Laganside Courts complex in Belfast, Judge Crawford said Private D presented a “contrived and self-serving account” of what happened.

She said that “in all likelihood he was scared” and had “overreacted to the noise and activity that was prevalent at the time of his removal” from the area.

But she said fear or panic “does not justify” the force used by the soldier, who fired six more shots.

The coroner said no proper inquest was conducted into the death.

A previous inquest into Ms Thompson’s death, held in 1972, returned an open verdict.

A new investigation was ordered in September 2013 and started in 2018.

Mr Shiels said: ‘This is yet another clear illustration that the investigation system is able to reveal the truth to families seeking answers about the deaths of their loved ones.

“The soldier responsible for Ms. Thompson’s death testified for four days.

“He persistently claimed that he did not clearly remember the one time he fired live ammunition in anger and killed someone.

“Only by testing the witness account given immediately after the event, using independent objective ballistics, pathology and other witness evidence, can a proper assessment of the witness’s credibility be reached.

“Anyone who believes that the proper circumstances of Kathleen Thompson’s death could be established by the mechanisms suggested by the current government’s legacy proposals and which depend on the cooperation and honesty of those responsible for the death, lives frankly on another planet. ”

Jon J. Epps