Former SAS man who helped ambush IRA terrorists has jail sentence quashed

The burnt-out car in which three IRA men were shot dead by the SAS in Coagh in 1991
The burnt-out car in which three IRA terrorists were shot dead by the SAS in Coagh in 1991

A former SAS serviceman who took part in a deadly ambush of IRA terrorists has had his jail sentence quashed.

The former special forces operative had been ordered to spend six months behind bars for contempt of court after he refused to travel to Northern Ireland to give evidence in an inquest about the mission.

The coroner had called the man, who can only be identified as Soldier F, to give his account of the June 1991 incident.

Three suspected terrorists who were believed to be travelling to murder a member of the security services were intercepted and killed.

The former special forces operative refused to appear, claiming he had received medical advice that travelling to Northern Ireland and facing questions could worsen mental health issues he was grappling with as a result of his military service.

A six-month jail sentence for contempt was imposed at the Court of Session earlier this year.

This was revoked on Wednesday by three appeal judges, who instead imposed a £5,000 fine.

The court has previously heard how Solder F was “involved in planning the operation” and had opened fire in the ambush that led to Peter Ryan, Tony Doris and Lawrence McNally losing their lives in Coagh, Co Tyrone.

Doris was a cousin of Michelle O’Neill, the current Northern Irish First Minister.

Lady Dorrian, along with Lord Beckett and Lord Matthews, quashed the jail sentence after hearing that Soldier F had been initially willing to give evidence in the inquest, which was investigating whether lethal force was justified. He was then advised by a doctor that doing so could worsen symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

‘Flashbacks and nightmares’

“There are features of the respondent’s illness, which are directly linked with his military service, which give rise to the real possibility that a period of imprisonment would be more punitive for him than for others,” Lady Dorrian said, in a written judgment.

“Specifically, these are the flashbacks and nightmares; his hyper-vigilance; and his fear of reprisals consequent upon his service in Northern Ireland.

“In this case, there is substantial mitigation in the form of the respondent’s hitherto good character, his distinguished and decorated military service [and] the fact that his mental health difficulties appear to have resulted from that service.”

Soldier F was a member of an “arrest group” in the Coagh incident.

Up to 150 rounds were fired during the confrontation, of which Solider F fired eight.

He is not the same person as the Soldier F who is facing two charges of murder over the shooting of 13 civil rights protesters in Londonderry in 1972, an event known as Bloody Sunday.

He is also a different Solder F to the person charged earlier this year with murdering a man in Belfast in 1972.

‘A distinguished soldier’

At the hearing earlier this month, Donald Findlay KC, representing Soldier F in the Scottish case, described his client as a “distinguished soldier who served his country for a period of a number of years with great distinction and operated in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances”.

He added: “Are we really saying that a man who has given so much to his country can really be sent to prison for six months because he has taken his doctor’s advice?”

Lady Dorrian also wrote of how the impact of the former SAS soldier’s mental health had impacted his life.

She said he lived with “highly distressing” nightmares and was unable to properly socialise.

She added that his decision not to comply with the order to give evidence was “deliberate” but “influenced by his apprehension of his condition and not by an intention to undermine the proceedings, or to refuse entirely to engage”.