3 IRA members shot dead in Gibraltar
The 6th of March 1988 AD
As they walked along Winston Churchill Avenue in Gibraltar towards the border with Spain on the afternoon of March 6 1988 three IRA members on active service were shot dead by SAS soldiers. They were found to be unarmed afterwards.
The SAS men involved in the operation codenamed Flavius, whose object had been to arrest the suspects, stated that 30-year-old Danny MacCann had made a movement towards a bag he was carrying, apparently prompting fears he was reaching for a weapon or attempting to trigger a bomb already placed (as the SAS had erroneously been told) in the colony. Within moments Mairead Farrell, the 31-year-old who was the group’s most senior member, had also been shot as she reportedly reached for her handbag; likewise the third and last terrorist, Sean Savage, just 24, said to be reaching to his pocket. As the brief action progressed the number of shots used increased: MacCann was hit five times; Farrell eight; Savage at least 16.
It was later revealed that the gang had bomb equipment and Semtex explosive over the border in Spain, rather than in Gibraltar already. There was talk of the SAS action being the sort of brutal if effective strike used against the terrorists who seized the Iranian Embassy in 1980.
Supporters of the three dead denounced British brutality; yet it was clear the gang had been planning to detonate a bomb in the coming days that would in all likelihood have indiscriminately slaughtered members of a military band and possibly tourists gathered to watch them. An inquest in Gibraltar found 9 – 2 that the killings were lawful. In 1995 the European Court of Human Rights by a majority of 10 – 9 found that Britain had used excessive force against the three, thus breaching their human rights. It unanimously dismissed claims for damages and costs on the basis that the three had been engaged in terrorism.
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