The widow and daughter of 2 Belfast brothers believed to have been shot and injured by the undercover illegal army unit, the Military Reaction Force (MRF), have issued civil proceedings against the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Chief Constable of the PSNI.
The claims relate to a shooting incident on the Ballymurphy Road on the 15th April 1972 when members of the notorious undercover army unit shot and injured both brothers while on their way to work in the early hours of the morning. Gerry Conway owned a fruit stall.
The activities of the MRF, members of which are alleged to have travelled around the streets of Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland, from 1970 to 1973 in unmarked cars while armed and in civilian clothes, are the subject of scrutiny by the High Court in Northern Ireland in 2 pending cases. Challenges to the High Court in relation to the murder of Jean Smith and the wounding of Hugh Kenny are listed for hearing in September and December of this year.
The Legacy Investigation Branch of the PSNI commenced a criminal investigation in 2014 which was the subject of a challenge by the family of Jean Smyth. In March of this year a High Court judge decided that the PSNI were not sufficiently independent to investigate the MRF unit, partly as a result the unearthing of documents from the National Archives in London by researchers. The appeal in relation to the criminal investigation will be heard in the Court of Appeal in December of this year. A leave application for judicial review in relation to the wounding of Hugh Kenny is listed for hearing before the High Court in Belfast in September 2017.
A Panorama programme broadcast in 2013 identified at least 8 shooting incidents attributed to the MRF. It is believed that the MRF comprised around 40 soldiers selected from across the British Army and stationed within Holywood Barracks. The number of shootings including fatalities attributable to the unit remains unknown.
Patricia Coyle, solicitor for the Conway brothers, uncovered a critical contemporaneous report compiled by the Association for Legal Justice (ALJ) in May 1972. The report was unearthed by the solicitor in June of this year in the ALJ deposit of original papers in the Cardinal O Fiaich Library in Armagh. The report, written by Fr Brian Brady includes several witness statements taken in April 1972 and concludes that;
“An unfortunate development in the recent weeks in the troubled situation in Belfast has been the shooting of innocent civilians by gunmen running around in cars. It has been assumed that these assassination squads belong to the subversive organisations. In the light of this case one can no longer make this assumption. Denials of complicity in shooting by security forces are now worthless. Unfortunately most of those who have been gunned down were not as lucky as the Conway brothers, who had many witnesses to what really happened and who was actually involved. The net result of all of this is that the role and activities of the security forces, in and out of uniform, is becoming more and more unacceptable.” Fr Brian Brady, Association of Legal Justice, May 1972
Patricia Coyle, Solicitor for both the widow and daughter of the Conway brothers, said today;
“The full extent of the activities of the Military Reaction Force in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s remains unknown. The unit’s responsibility for shootings and fatalities has not yet been ascertained. What is clear however is that they were operating outside the rule of law with impunity. In issuing proceedings our clients seek to obtain full discovery of all relevant documents and information from the MOD and PSNI regarding the activities of the MRF and the unjustified shooting of their husband and father.”
HARTE COYLE COLLINS,
SOLICITORS & ADVOCATES
9-15 QUEEN STREET, BELFAST.