On 10th May this year (2019), along with Ciaran MacAirt and Solicitor Pat Fahy, I launched a report into the police murder of my cousin, Michael Leonard, on 17th May 1973.
I wrote the report following the discovery of critical new evidence which proved that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol fired three deliberate shots at a car driven by civilian Michael Leonard and not one accidental discharge as the police testified at the original inquest in October 1973.
The critical new evidence records deliberate, multiple shots and an attempt to criminalize Michael and his family as members of the proscribed Irish Republican Army. One of several pieces of evidence recorded in a 3 Brigade Operations Log in the minutes and hours after his murder states:
“He drove off in his car and the police fired 2 shots at the car which did not stop. They gave chase in a Land Rover and fired another shot which hit him.”
“The shots were fired at 1750 hours, Michael Joseph Leonard… died at the scene… report says he was PIRA [Provisional Irish Republican Army]”
This new information was discovered by researcher Ciarán MacAirt of the charity Paper Trail (Legacy Archive Research) in high-level British military operations logs and documents in the National Archives, Kew, London.
Michael Leonard was 24 years of age and engaged to be married to Mena Gallagher, when he was shot dead by the RUC while driving his car near the Fermanagh/Donegal border. He was a farmer and cattle-dealer, living in county Donegal.
An RUC spokesperson testified on behalf of the RUC patrol members at the inquest and told the Coroner that the officers who shot Michael knew him and knew he had been disqualified from driving but that he failed to stop when ordered and they gave chase in their Land Rover.
The RUC spokesperson claimed that one of the police officers was attempting to fire a warning shot at the car when the RUC driver of the Land Rover swerved and caused the accidental firing of the gun. This accidental discharge hit Michael in the back and he died at the scene just before the border.
There have always been questions arising from Michael’s killing and the RUC version which were never answered. The Inquest which I attended was a complete farce. None of the police present at the shooting were present at the Inquest. Instead a senior RUC officer stood in to offer an explanation. The Coroner returned a verdict of ‘death by misadventure’.
We thought the matter was closed then until Ciaran MacAirt discovered the British army and RUC files in Kew. These throw a different light on the matter and we are now beginning to realise there was a cover up and lies were told about the murder by the RUC in 1973.
The Attorney General for Northern Ireland in a recent letter to family solicitor, Pat Fahy, stated that the killing of Michael was totally unjustified and that the attempt ‘to blacken his name afterwards was despicable’.
Ciarán MacAirt commented:
“Whilst researching British military operations logs in the National Archives, Kew, London, I discovered that the version of the killing reported in the aftermath and at the Inquest in October 1973 do not correspond to contemporaneous reports made by British units at the scene to their Commanders.
The startling documents also show how the RUC’s story changed in the hours after the killing and yet not one of these versions record a single, accidental discharge.”
The report into The Murder of Michael Leonard was launched in Conway Mill, Belfast on Friday 17 May. That day was the 46th anniversary of his death. The campaign in search of the truth continues.