Unarmed mother shot by soldier in garden in 'unjustified circumstances'

A coroner has ruled a mother-of-six was shot dead by a soldier in her back garden in "unjustified" circumstances.

47-year-old Kathleen Thompson was killed by a bullet to the chest in Londonderry on November 6, 1971.

Two bullets were fired by someone identified only as soldier D into her garden in Rathlin Drive, Creggan, as he and others were withdrawing from the area, Judge Sandra Crawford said.

She said Mrs Thompson was unarmed and had been in her back garden banging a bin lid or other object to alert neighbours to the presence of soldiers in the area.

The shooting of Mrs Thompson, whose children were aged between seven and 18 at the time, breached guidance on the deployment of lethal force provided to soldiers, the coroner said.

Giving a summary of her findings on Wednesday, the coroner said: "Her death was caused by a high-velocity shot fired by soldier D from a position on Southway, Derry, as he and other soldiers were withdrawing from the area.

"Soldier D did not have an honest belief that a gunshot had been fired from the garden of 129 Rathlin Drive and that his life and the lives of others were under immediate threat."

She said "shooting into a dark garden in a residential area in such circumstances" breached guidance on soldiers' use of lethal force.

She found the soldier had fired two shots into Mrs Thompson's back garden "in circumstances which were unjustified".

Sitting at the Laganside Courts complex in Belfast, Judge Crawford said soldier D had presented a "contrived and self-serving account" of what happened.

She said that "in all likelihood he was frightened" and had "overreacted to the noise and activity which was prevalent at the time of his withdrawal" from the area.

But she said being frightened or panicking "does not begin to justify" the force used by the soldier, who fired a further six shots.

The coroner said no proper investigation had been carried out into the death.< A previous inquest into Mrs Thompson's death, held in 1972, returned an open verdict.

A new inquest was ordered in September 2013 and began in 2018.

Mrs Thompson's family issued a statement in response to Wednesday's ruling.

Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane said:

“This is yet another clear illustration that the inquest system is capable of achieving the truthfor families seeking answers as to how their loved ones died.

“The soldier responsible for Mrs Thompson’s death gave evidence over the course of 4 days.He persistently claimed not to have a clear recollection of the only time in which he has everfired lived rounds in anger and killed someone.

“It is only by testing the witness’ account given immediately after the event using theindependently objective ballistics, pathology and other witness evidence can a properassessment of the witness’ credibility be reached.

“Any person who thinks that the proper circumstances of the how Kathleen Thompson diedcould be established through the mechanisms suggested by the current government’s legacyproposals and reliant upon the cooperation and honesty of those responsible for the death, isfrankly living on another planet.”