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Soldier responsible for Harry Thornton killing to be named

January 23, 2017

A British soldier who shot dead a south Armagh man more than 45 years ago should be identified, according to Coroner Brian Sherrard.

Silverbridge man Harry Thornton was killed as he travelled along Belfast’s Springfield Road in August 1971.

The 29-year-old father of six was shot as he was driving to work with colleague Arthur Murphy in the early morning of 7th August 1971. Mr Thornton died almost instantly after he was shot twice through the rear of his work van shortly after it had backfired outside Springfield Road police station in west Belfast.

The south Armagh man had been living temporarily in the city for work when he was killed.

A Parachute Regiment soldier, known as Soldier A, claimed he thought shots had been fired and ran after the van before firing at the driver.

At a hearing last year Coroner Sherrard said that while Soldier A may have believed shots had been fired, he should not have opened fire.

The coroner said that Soldier A would undoubtedly have known that firing two high-velocity bullets at the driver of the vehicle “was likely to result in the driver’s death” and he concluded that the shooting of Mr Thornton “was neither a necessary nor a reasonable nor a proportionate response to the situation Soldier A either actually encountered or thought that he encountered.”

Mr Sherrard had earlier been asked to review a decision to name the soldier responsible – who is now deceased.  It is understood the late soldier’s family had objected to the publicising of his name.

Ruling on the issue last week, the Coroner said, “on reflection I see no reason to change the original decision issued” and added that “in each and every case these decisions have to be made on their own basis”.

Mr Sherrard is due to deliver his “final findings” this week.

Mr Thornton’s widow Mary said it is “very important that he (the soldier) is named”, whilst her solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh said in the event of the coroner’s decision being challenged he is prepared to represent the family in support of the decision of the coroner.

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