FORMER soldiers in an elite British army unit have told a BBC documentary that the British army ran an undercover unit that operated an authorised ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy during the Troubles in Belfast.
Members of the Military Reaction Force (MRF) told BBC Panorama programme’s, Britain’s Secret Terror Force that they targeted an unspecified number of IRA members regardless of whether or not they were armed.
Panorama reports that MRF soldiers killed at least two men in drive-by shootings and injured more than 10 civilians, despite the lack of evidence to suggest that any of them were armed or were members of the IRA.
Several former members of the force were interviewed by reporter John Ware about their involvement in the unit, which was commanded at brigadier level.
“We were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group,” said one former soldier.
“We were there in a position to go after the IRA and kill them when we found them.”
The 40 members of the unit were specifically chosen from within the British army who operated in west Belfast between 1971 and 1973.
It is not known exactly how many people were shot by the MRF; all of the MRF’s records were destroyed.
Anne Cadwallader, author of Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland, told The Irish Post ahead of tonight’s broadcast that the actions by the British State were “illegal and immoral”.
She explained that even if commanders ordered the MRF soldiers to kill those they believed to be IRA, non-combatant civilians nevertheless suffered and due process should have been followed.
The introduction of the MRF led to other similar undercover British army units operating in Northern Ireland.
Panorama does not make any specific allegation about what or any level of political control it was under.
Reference is made to a memo from then British prime minister Ted Heath in 1972, close to the time that the force was demobilised.
He stated that “special care should be taken” to ensure that the British army’s replacement group “operated within the law”.
The documentary also focuses on five specific cases in which more than 12 people with no connection to the IRA were shot by the MRF in 1972.
This includes the killing of Patrick McVeigh, a father of six children and a member of the Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Club.
Mr McVeigh’s daughter Patricia said: “We want the truth. We don’t want to stop until we get the truth.”
Other relatives of the MRF’s victims told Panorama that 40 years on, they are still seeking answers.
The soldiers told Panorama they agreed to be interviewed because they believe their role in the fight against the IRA has not been acknowledged.
Britain’s Secret Terror Force airs tonight on BBC One at 9pm.