Sunday Life

Soldier's Restorick claims investigated

14 November 2004

The Police Ombudsman has now interviewed a former soldier who claims that the life of the last serviceman murdered by the IRA could have been saved.

The Ombudsman's director of investigations, Justin Felice, spoke to the former Special Forces soldier, who uses the pseudonym 'Tony Buchanan', in the last few days.

Buchanan claims that surveillance of the IRA's infamous border sniper team was halted by the RUC's tasking and co-ordination group, just hours before 23 year-old Lance-Bombardier Stephen Restorick was shot dead, in February 1997.

The former soldier has alleged that the decision was taken to protect an informer, within the IRA unit which operated along the border using a powerful rifle, which fired devastating half-inch calibre shells.

After making the allegation public last month, Buchanan was served with a legal gagging order by the Ministry of Defence, which prevented him from making any further reference to his military experiences in Ulster.

But Stephen Restorick's mother, Rita, and his father, John, asked the Police Ombudsman to investigate the claim that soldiers attached to the specialist 14th Intelligence unit were told not to intercept the sniper gang - led by South Armagh terrorist, Michael Caraher - as it headed towards the Army's Bessbrook base.

Caraher, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, but then released under the terms of the Prisoner Release Scheme, is believed to have killed six members of the security forces using the powerful American Barrett Light Fifty rifle.

Buchanan - who is believed to have served in Iraq recently - has admitted that he was not part of the 14th Intelligence unit, but he claims that he has spoken to members of the unit tracking Caraher.

The Treasury solicitor - acting for the MoD - rejected approaches from the Police Ombudsman to interview Buchanan in London and, since then, a legal battle has been fought between the two bodies.

But after the Ombudsman threatened to launch a High Court action, the Treasury solicitor agreed to give O'Loan's investigators access to the former soldier.

One legal source told Sunday Life yesterday: "This is an important landmark for the Police Ombudsman, because - even though she has absolute powers to interview serving and former members of the police service - the military is a grey area.

"It appears that Mrs O'Loan's office has established the important precedent that, if a soldier has information that may be relevant to her investigations into police actions, then interviewing that soldier is a legally compellable request."

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