A Belfast Court has heard that the case of Manus Deery, a 15-year-old boy shot dead by the British Army in Derry in May,1972 is at a very advanced stage in terms of proceeding to an inquest.
The case was at court to be assessed for its readiness to proceed by Lord Justice Weir. The Derry teenager was shot dead by a British soldier who fired from a sentry post as he should talking with friends near his home in the Bogside 43 years ago. An inquest into the killing in 1973 returned an open verdict, something which the Deery family have fought to overturn.
The court heard that the case was one which appears to have all of the work completed apart from what we’re described as a few minor, outstanding issues.
Counsel for the Coroner’s Service, Mr McAlinden said that there were proposals in motion to carry out some tests at the location of the killing in the coming months.
The tests are based around establishing light conditions and visibility in the area in terms of establishing what the soldiers who were in the sentry post could see at the time the fatal round was fired. As such retrospective weather reports for the area have been sought from the Met Office for May, 1972.
An issue of the type of scope used by the two soldiers in the sentry post also emerged in court. It emerged that it is believed that the soldier who fired the shot that killed Manus Deery did not have a telescopic sight mounted on his rifle and that the second soldier inside the elevated position used a free-standing scope to sight and direct the ‘shooter’ towards the victim.
Mr McAlinden revealed that despite requests for the specification of the scope to the Ministry of Defence they had not been provided and neither had British Army manuals containing information about the scope.
Lord Justice Weir stated that he found it hard to believe that the British Army did not have a museum full of the types of scope used and appeared unable to provide one for examination.
Despite a request by the Crown barrister Mr Martin Wolfe that they be allowed a month to locate an example of the equipment in question, Lord Justice Weir said: “You were asked for these in November. Are these manuals being delivered from Taiwan? You have one week to produce these manuals.”
The court was also told of plans by the Coroners Service to create a re-enactment of the shooting of Manus Deery which could take place in May, the same time of year when the killing occurred. However a re-enactment could not take place until the type of scope used by the soldiers was presented. It was also suggested that a Coroner be present when any reproduction of the events surrounding the killing takes place.
Legal counsel for the Coroner’s Service also told Lord Justice Weir that one witness, a former member of the RUC had sought exemption from appearing at the inquest on health grounds. However, it was made clear that this was only possible if the condition was a deteriorating neurological condition.
Mr Martin Wolfe, representing the Crown told the court that the man who fired the fatal shot, identified only as Soldier A was dead, and that Soldier B who was also in the sentry post had been asked to describe the telescopic sight used to pinpoint the teenage victim. However, Mr Wolfe contended, Soldier B’s “memory is frail and has had difficulty remembering the type of scope used.”
Counsel for the Crown also said that issues over the redaction of portions of text in Ministry of Defence files relating to the Deery case had been resolved and that they would be handed over in complete form within the next week.
The court also heard that Soldier B had indicated that he wished to seek anonymity and be screened from sight when appearing at the inquest and that would necessitate a risk assessment at a time close to the hearing.
However, Lord Justice Weir said: “I find it very difficult to understand on what basis this is being requested other than to create unproductive delays. A little bit of common sense needs to be shown. I often wonder who suggests these things to these people. This cannot be a case of kicking the can down the road, it’s too old and it needs to be dealt with. “
In considering the Deery family’s request for a jury inquest Justice Weir said that whilst it was a reasonable request there were understandable fears that jury members could be affected by the emotion involved in the case and that this society was still polarised by the ‘Troubles’.
A request to have the inquest held in Derry was also considered by the court and it was stated that the case had been listed to proceed in Derry last year over the period of a week but did not go ahead because the Deery family had objected to the fact the case was not to be jury led.