High court reporters
The President of the High Court has ordered that the family of a part-time member of the British security forces who was kidnapped, murdered, and his body booby trapped by the Provisional IRA over 50 years ago be provided with a court file of the trial of two men before the Special Criminal Court.
The order, in relation to a trial of two alleged IRA members that took place before the non-Jury court in July 1972, was granted by Mr Justice David Barniville following an application on behalf of the family of Corporal James Elliott, who for decades have been seeking answers in respect of his murder.
The family claims that the court file from the 1972 trial, which they say is connected with, their father’s death may help them in their search for answers.
Kidnapping and murder
On April 17th, 1972 James Elliott, a part-time corporal with the Ulster Defence Regiment, was working as truck driver doing delivery between Kingscourt in Co Cavan and Warrenpoint, Co Down when he was kidnapped at gunpoint by masked men near a border crossing at Newry.
He was held for 30 hours before being murdered, after being shot multiple times with a machine gun.
His body was left a few yards from the border at Mullaghduff, Altnamackin, Newtownhamilton in Co Armagh. It was used as a lure by the IRA for a planned larger attack on British security forces.
Corporal Elliott’s body was booby trapped and had been connected to a 500-600 lbs of gelignite in steel containers in a culvert under the road.
Several ‘Claymore’ landmines were also placed near the site.
Following an operation that involved security forces on both sides of the border his body was recovered after the explosives were removed and detonated at a nearby field.
The IRA later admitted it had killed Corporal Elliott, who was from Rathfriland, Co Down. It claimed that the married father of three sons had been killed while forcefully resisting abduction.
The family strongly dispute that, and say medical evidence is entirely inconsistent with the IRA’s claim. Investigations into the kidnapping and killing were conducted on both sides of the border.
The family say that nobody has ever been charged with Corporal Elliott’s murder.
Arising out of the Garda investigation of the incident in July 1972, two Co Monaghan men, described in court documents as being IRA members, Brendan Finnegan and Patrick Lynch were convicted by the Special Criminal Court of conspiring to commit an explosion and for possessing explosives.
Finnegan was jailed for 9 months while Lynch was jailed for 15 months.
It is claimed that other charges including, conspiring to commit murder and attempted murder, were brought against the two men but were subsequently dropped.
The Court heard that the while the trial had occurred months after the killing Corporal Elliott’s family were never informed about it and only discovered in 2005 that persons had been tried and convicted of offences they claim are linked to the murder and abduction.
Represented by Michael Lynn SC one of the deceased’s sons, Jim Elliott, applied to be provided with the SCC’s file on the case.
The family are unclear about issues surrounding the investigations into their father’s death, and do not know why certain charges were dropped.
Obtaining these files will help their understanding to what happened to their father, and at the subsequent trial before the SCC.
Access to the file was extremely important to the legacy process and commitments made by the Irish State in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the family say.
Counsel said that Finnegan of Drummond, Inniskeen, Co Monaghan, was served with copies of Mr Elliott’s proceedings.
Patrick or Pat Lynch who was also from Inniskeen, died over a decade ago. He was described in an obituary published in the Irish Republican Newspaper An Phoblacht in 2009, which was put before the court in support of the application, as being an active member of the IRA’s South Armagh unit during the late 1960s and 70s before taking a prominent role in Sinn Féin in his later years.
Counsel said it was an “unusual case” and the application was in respect of one of the first cases to come before the SCC after that particular court was established.
Granting the application Mr Justice Barniville expressed his sympathies to the Elliott family and described their father’s murder as being “horrendous”.
He directed that the Elliott’s lawyers be given access to the original file, and that they also be provided with a copy of the file within the next seven days.
It was in the interests of justice that file be made available, the judge said.
The President agreed that it was an unusual and complex matter and praised the Elliotts legal advisors who he said had taken on the case under a voluntary scheme.
Outside court Mr Jim Elliott, accompanied by his brothers Cyrill and Lester and Mr Jonhathan Larner, a liaison officer the UHRW, welcomed the court’s decision to grant them access to the SCC’s file.
He said he hoped the contents of the file would be the first step on the road to answering questions about their father’s murder.