March 12 2012

An IRA man shot dead by undercover soldiers over 20 years ago was carrying ammunition at the time, an inquest has been told.

A doctor called to the scene claimed a rifle magazine protruded from the trouser pocket of one of the victims and guns were seen nearby.

Martin McCaughey and Dessie Grew died in a hail of bullets near Loughgall in Co Armagh. Their deaths prompted allegations that they were victims of a British shoot-to-kill policy.

Soldiers due to give evidence feared they would be attacked, Belfast inquest coroner Brian Sherrard said. He added: “At the time of opening fire they believed that the men were going to fire on them.”

Grew, 37, and McCaughey, 23, were shot close to isolated farm buildings at Lislasly on October 9 1990. The shed was being monitored by the security forces. The case has become one of the oldest outstanding inquests in Northern Ireland.

Dr Brian Cupples checked the men’s bodies shortly after they were shot dead and his statement was read to the inquest and he said one of the men was wearing a green boiler suit and gloves and there was a gun close to the body.

“There was evidence of multiple gunshot wounds to the body,” he said. “There was no evidence of any struggle having taken place after the shooting, with death occurring at the immediate time of the shooting.”

The other man was wearing a jersey, jeans and gloves. He was lying face up and a rifle was nearby. “A rifle magazine was coming from the trouser pocket,” Dr Cupples said.

The jury will have to consider more broadly the security operation that culminated in the deaths, its purpose, its planning, the actions of the soldiers, their knowledge and the degree of force used in the shooting as well as the circumstances in which the victims came to be in the shed and came by their deaths.

The inquest is due to last four weeks.