Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Colum Marks murder: Eyewitness corroborates ‘shoot–to-kill’ claims

The Police Ombudsman is to open a new investigation into the killing of IRA volunteer Colum Marks, from Newry, who was shot dead by the RUC more than 25 years ago.  The move comes after an eyewitness recently came forward with new information, which supports the family’s claims that he was shot after being arrested in April 1991.

Marks was part of an IRA unit planning to launch an attack on a police patrol in Downpatrick when the RUC, acting on intelligence, were lying in wait.  The police officer who fired the shots said he believed Marks was armed, and claimed he refused to stop when an attempt was made to arrest him.  However, no gun was ever found and his family claimed he was shot after being arrested.

Lawyers for the family have said the advance knowledge police had about the attack meant they should have been in a position to arrest him without opening fire and that he was the victim of a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy.

They had commenced legal action for the killing to be investigated by the Police Ombudsman, Michael Maguire, who initially refused because the RUC had already investigated the shooting.  But that changed when an eyewitness came forward two months ago.

The eyewitness has said that on the night of the shooting he saw a man, believed to have been Colum Marks, being walked along a street under police guard.  He said it was clear the man was under arrest, and that three RUC officers were with him.

That completely contradicts the police version of events.

Lawyers for the Marks family disclosed the new information to the Ombudsman and on Thursday last their legal action was withdrawn in the High Court after it was revealed that the Ombudsman has now decided to launch a new investigation.

The decision was welcomed by one of the family’s legal representatives.

“This new information fundamentally undermines the police account of what happened,” said Gavin Booth.

“It supports the family’s claim that Colum was shot after being arrested, at a time when police must have known he was not armed, and that this was clearly a shoot-to-kill operation.”

In a statement, the Police Ombudsman said an assessment of the case will now be carried out to establish when the investigation can begin.

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy welcomed the news and said his thoughts “first and foremost” are with Colum’s family.

“Their fight for justice has been a long and difficult one.   Each time it seemed like there was a breakthrough, the State would always throw something else in their way, heaping more hurt on a family that has lost a beloved son and brother.  Yet through all this they remained determined and dignified,” he said.

“There have always been questions surrounding Colum’s murder.  The RUC statements about what happened on the night have never been credible; the Human Rights Commission said they raised more questions than answers.  This new witness statement seems to vindicate the family’s belief that Colum was unarmed, arrested and executed.

“With each passing inquiry and investigation we seem to learn more and more about Britain’s dirty war in Ireland, whether it was carried out through collusion, assassinations or their shoot to kill policy, and it seems that Colum was a victim of that dirty war.  These investigations only scratch the surface of British involvement in the conflict in Ireland but with each one it becomes clearer why they are so opposed to a truth and reconciliation process.

“Whatever happens with this investigation we can only hope that it brings Colum’s family that bit closer to the truth and to justice.”