THE RUC shooting of a Catholic man in Co Fermanagh 46 years ago is now being classified as murder. Cattle dealer Michael Leonard (24) was shot dead after a car chase near the Co Donegal border between pettigo and Bellies on May 17th 1973. Last week it emerged that Attorney General John Larkin QC believes his killing was not justified and that later attempts by the Security Forces to blacken his name were “despicable”.
Mr Leonard was a disqualified driver. A police patrol had earlier spotted him getting into a car after leaving a shop. At a 1973 inquest an RUC inspector claimed that a policeman who held a rifle out of the passenger side of a pursuing Land Rover ” accidentally snatched the trigger and discharged a round” after the vehicle “took a violent turn”.
None of the three officers involved appeared at the inquest, which returned a finding of misadventure. However, British Army logs have revealed that three shots were fired. An entry in a military log falsely claimed Mr Leonard was an IRA member.
A senior officer in a report also wrongly claimed that “he was a known son of an IRA man” (sic). The new information was discovered by Ciarán MacAirt from the charity ‘Paper Trail’ and published last week in a booklet by Mr Leonard’s cousin Fr Joe McVeigh. Asked about the shooting, RUC/PSNI assistant chief constable George Clarke said police “understand the suffering the family of Michael Leonard must be going through as they await this review and how difficult it must be for them”.
“His murder is within the caseload of the Legacy Investigation Branch and we will review and reconsider all evidence when this case is reviewed,” he said. Last night For McVeigh said: “I am glad to hear… that the RUC/PSNI are now seeing it as we have always seen the killing of Michael – as murder, as blatant murder, premeditated killing and therefore murder.” Mr McAirt said: “This is vindication for a bereaved family that has had to shoulder not only the grief of losing Michael to murder by those who should have defended his basic human rights.”
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Connla Young for the original story
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