Unjustified 1971 shooting of Derry mother of six referred to NI prosecutors
Inquest findings into 1971 death of unarmed mother shot by soldier in her garden sent to Northern Ireland’s prosecution service
Inquest findings into the death of a mother-of-six who was shot by a soldier in an “unjustified” killing in Derry in 1971 are to be referred to Northern Ireland’s prosecution service.
Kathleen Thompson, 47, was killed by a bullet to the chest in November 1971.
An original inquest over 50 years ago delivered an open verdict. This new inquest was ordered in 2013 and began in 2018.
Two bullets were fired by a person identified only as Soldier D into her back garden in Rathlin Drive, Creggan, as he and others were withdrawing from the area, Judge Sandra Crawford said in her inquest findings in June.
She said Mrs Thompson was unarmed and had been in her back garden banging a bin lid or other object to alert neighbours to the presence of soldiers in the area.
The judge found Soldier D did not have an honest belief that a gunshot had been fired from the garden of 129 Rathlin Drive and that his life and the lives of others were under immediate threat.
The coroner concluded that the shooting of Mrs Thompson breached guidance on the deployment of lethal force provided to soldiers, and that the two shots fired were “in circumstances which were unjustified”.
The Public Prosecution Service said it was aware that the coroner intended to refer her findings under section 35(3) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.
A spokesperson said that when received, the referral “will be considered carefully in order to determine any appropriate action, including whether the matter should be referred to police for investigation”.
Mrs Thompson’s daughter Minty welcomed the development.
“Soldier D gave evidence of shooting our mother over the course of four days in court,” she said.
“He demonstrated a very selective memory when doing so. We now expect to see Soldier D face the consequences of his actions and for the Director (of Public Prosecutions) to prosecute him accordingly.”
Fearghal Shiels, of legal firm Madden and Finucane, said his team were engaging with the coroner around Soldier D’s anonymity.
“We hope that the coroner will provide all necessary documents, including statements and transcripts of Soldier D’s evidence to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) to enable him to reach a fully informed decision, and not merely the coroner’s findings,” he said.
“We are still engaging with the coroner in respect of Soldier D’s anonymity, which we contend must now be reviewed in light of the content of her findings.”
The coroner ruled the soldier who shot Kathleen Thompson did not have an honest belief his life and the lives of others were under immediate threat.
The mother-of-six was shot dead in her back garden in circumstances which were “unjustified”, the judge, sitting as coroner, ruled.
The judge-coroner said the shooting of Ms Thompson, whose children were aged between seven and 18 at the time, breached guidance on the deployment of lethal force provided to soldiers.
Giving a summary of her findings on yesterday (Wed) she said: “Her death was caused by a high-velocity shot fired by soldier D from a position on Southway, Derry, as he and other soldiers were withdrawing from the area.
“Soldier D did not have an honest belief that a gunshot had been fired from the garden of 129 Rathlin Drive and that his life and the lives of others were under immediate threat.”
She said “shooting into a dark garden in a residential area in such circumstances” breached guidance on soldiers’ use of lethal force.
She found that the soldier had fired two shots into Mrs Thompson’s back garden “in circumstances which were unjustified”.
Sitting at the Laganside Courts complex in Belfast, Judge Crawford said soldier D had presented a “contrived and self-serving account” of what happened.
She said that “in all likelihood he was frightened” and had “overreacted to the noise and activity which was prevalent at the time of his withdrawal” from the area.
But she said being frightened or panicking “does not begin to justify” the force used by the soldier, who fired a further six shots.
The coroner said no proper investigation had been carried out into the death.
A previous inquest into Mrs Thompson’s death, held in 1972, returned an open verdict.
This new inquest was ordered in September 2013 and began in 2018.