By Michael McHugh
Wednesday March 14 2012

TWO IRA men were shot dead as they lay wounded after being confronted by SAS troops who had been keeping them under surveillance, it was claimed at an inquest today.

Karen Quinlivan, a barrister representing the families of the two republicans, challenged soldiers’ claims that they opened fire to protect themselves against armed terrorists in 1990 near farm outbuildings in Co Armagh.

She alleged: “You make sure the wounded man is no longer wounded, he is dead.”

Dessie Grew, 37, and Martin McCaughey, 23, died in a hail of 72 bullets near the farm buildings in October 1990.

Special forces had been monitoring the mushroom shed near Loughgall because they suspected a stolen vehicle inside was to be used for terrorism.

While soldiers argued that care had to be taken that suspects could no longer harm them, Ms Quinlivan asked whether they could have disarmed and arrested the two men.

She told a soldier witness at the Belfast inquest: “After the two men had fallen to the ground in circumstances where they were clearly wounded by high-velocity rounds which you will acknowledge are extremely damaging, Soldier D fired two shots into Dessie Grew as he lay face down lying on the ground and it appears also fired a third shot into Martin McCaughey’s head, the fatal shot into Martin McCaughey’s head, as he lay on his back on the ground.”

This is day three of the inquest. Soldiers who will appear later are expected to argue that their lives were endangered, Ms Quinlivan said. Evidence already before the inquest jury from a doctor who examined the dead IRA men said they were lying near guns and ammunition.

Soldier J, an expert in training SAS soldiers but who was not involved in the Loughgall operation, said servicemen may still be under threat even if their target is wounded.

Ms Quinlivan said: “You seem to be suggesting that it is soldiers’ practice to finish off wounded men?”

Soldier J responded: “It is in the soldier’s mind that if he is approaching someone that may be wounded, may be still armed, may have something that could harm him, it is his responsibility to render that threat no more.”