NI: Coroner’s Court: Soldier who shot and killed 19-year-old in Derry in 1972 was not justified in opening fire

Sitting as a Coroner in the inquest on the death of a 19-year-old man in Derry in 1972, Judge Patrick Kinney has found that the soldier who shot and killed Seamus Bradley was not justified in opening fire and that the investigation into his death was flawed and inadequate.

Finding that the use of force was entirely disproportionate, Judge Kinney was satisfied that Seamus did not have a weapon, and that he “could not reasonably have been perceived as posing a threat of death or serious injury to the soldiers in the Saracen or any other person”


On the morning of 31 July 1972, 19-year-old Seamus Bradley was unarmed, running through Bishop’s Field in the Creggan area of Derry when he was shot and killed by a soldier of the 1 Royal Scots Regiment at the start of Operation Motorman. Seamus was shot at least four times by the soldier, and his cause of death was laceration of his left femoral artery due to a gunshot wound. Judge Kinney said it was agreed and accepted that Seamus was a member of the Provisional IRA at the time of his death.

The Coroner, Judge Patrick Kinney said the issue to be determined was whether the use of lethal force was justified and whether the operation in which the force was used was planned and controlled in such a way as to minimise to the greatest extent possible the need for recourse to lethal force. As Seamus was killed by an agent of the State, Judge Kinney said the onus was on the State to justify the force used.

Conflicting accounts

Seamus’s brother, Daniel, stated that he was with Seamus on the morning of 31 July 1972, and that he saw his brother being shot. Judge Kinney said there were many inconsistencies in the accounts given by Daniel over the years, and that there was “no evidence of strangulation, a broken neck or the use of barbed wire”; nor was there evidence that Seamus “was hung on Bishop’s Field or that he was tortured at any stage”.

Medical evidence confirmed that there was bruising across Seamus’s neck, but the doctor who conducted the autopsy recorded that this “could have been caused when the deceased collapsed after being shot”. Another medical expert said the neck injuries were caused by blunt force trauma through contact with a rough surface, but said there was no evidence of assault, torture or strangulation.  

Judge Kinney rejected the soldiers’ accounts given shortly after the shooting, which had stated that Seamus was carrying “what looked like a submachine gun in his hand as he ran” and that Seamus had sustained some of his injuries when he fell from a tree after being shot.

A man who came forward in response to a call for witnesses by the Coroners Service in 2017 was found to have given the most credible account of what happened. The man’s house faced onto Bishop’s Field and he had been woken by “the sound of alarms, horns and bin-lids which signalled that Operation Motorman had begun”. He said that he saw a man running across Bishop’s Field, a Saracen arriving and a soldier getting out and aiming his rifle towards the man. He saw the man collapse and assumed the soldier had shot him, and he saw the man being lifted into the back of the Saracen. Accepting this account in its entirety, Judge Kinney said the witness did not attempt to overplay his recollection and avoided any attempt to embellish his account.

The verdict

Delivering his verdict, Judge Kinney was satisfied that Seamus did not have a weapon, and that he “could not reasonably have been perceived as posing a threat of death or serious injury to the soldiers in the Saracen or any other person”. Judge Kinney said that “the use of force by the soldier was entirely disproportionate to any threat that could have been perceived”.

Judge Kinney found that the soldier who shot Seamus did not adhere to the terms of the Yellow Card (i.e. the instructions to the Army for opening fire in Northern Ireland were revised in November 1971 and include the circumstances in which a soldier may fire with and without giving due warning), and that he was not justified in opening fire.

While finding that Seamus was not mistreated in the Saracen in the form of physical assault, torture or shooting, Judge Kinney said that no first aid or medical assistance was provided by the soldiers as Seamus was dying in the back of the Saracen, and that if such aid had been provided, “there was a reasonable prospect that Seamus Bradley may have survived the shooting”.

Further, Judge Kinney found that “Operation Motorman was not planned, controlled or regulated in order to minimise to the greatest extent possible the risk to life, principally because of the lack of planning for casualties, both civilian and military”.

Finally, Judge Kinney concluded that the investigation into the death of Seamus Bradley was flawed and inadequate.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News
Share icon
Share this article: