Derry mum-of-six killing ‘not justified’, inquest rules

An inquest has ruled that a British soldier was unjustified in firing shots that killed a mother-of-six in Derry’s Creggan Estate more than 50 years ago.

Kathleen Thompson.
Kathleen Thompson.

Kathleen Thompson (47) was shot dead in the back garden of her Rathlin Drive home in November 1971.

An inquest in 1972 into Mrs Thompson’s death returned an open verdict. The attorney general ordered a fresh inquest in 2013. This inquest started in 2018 but was, then, adjourned to allow time to trace three soldiers. It resumed in 2021.

Judge Sandra Crawford ruled that the fatal shots were fired by an individual known as ‘Soldier D’ as the army withdrew from the Southway district following an arrest operation.

The back yard of the Thompsons' home in Creggan just hours after the shooting.

The Coroner said Mrs Thompson had gone to the rear of her home and was banging a binlid or another object on the ground to warn people of the army’s presence when she was shot.

The inquest heard that ballistic experts could not rule out that the bullet that killed the Derry mother had been fired from an SLR rifle similar to those used by the British Army.

Judge Crawford said Soldier D had claimed he had fired after he was fired upon and was, thus, acting to protect himself and his colleagues.

The judge added: “I cannot be satisfied that Soldier D held an honest belief he was under fire.”

She described his evidence to the inquest as ‘contrived and self serving’.

Judge Crawford said that, even taking into account the atmosphere Soldier D found himself in, and the fact that he may have been ‘frightened’, he had ‘over-reacted’.

She added that Soldier D could not have seen Mrs Thompson when he opened fire. His firing, she said, had been in breach of the army’s ‘Yellow Card’ guidelines.

The Coroner said Soldier D had used a level of force that was not justified.

Judge Crawford said there had been no attempt to obstruct or mislead the inquest.

She said that, while ‘several witnesses were reluctant’ to give evidence, this was not obstructive.

Following the verdict, Karen Quinlivan QC, for the Thompson family, said it was normal procedure for the case to now be referred to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).