Death of John Pat Cunningham

19 March 2013

John Pat – my uncle – who would now have been in his late-sixties, was murdered by the British Army. He was deliberately shot dead by heavily-armed and trained soldiers. This was not an instinctive or defensive reaction to any perceived threat. The two soldiers who fired at John Pat had leaped over a farm gate before stopping, aiming and taking fire at a man running away from them. John Pat was shot in the back. The “Yellow Card” rules were ignored. It was fully three days before the soldiers responsible were questioned by police. But even then, there was no real attempt to hold them to account – and none since.

There is no other conceivable situation in any democracy anywhere in the world where soldiers can shoot a defenceless man dead and are not held to account for their actions. There was no apparent compulsion on the soldiers to justify their actions. John Pat might have been disabled, but he was a human being with exactly the same rights as anyone else. The question must be asked: did the British Army consider John Pat “disposable”?

Even to this day, the two soldiers have never been compelled to give an account of why they opened fire and shot an unarmed and defenceless man in the back as he ran away from them. The same people in the Ministry of Defence who have apologised for their actions are even now advising the soldiers not to make statements. In Iraq or Afghanistan, if a civilian was to be killed in the same circumstances, someone in authority would be demanding answers.

Not so for John Pat.

The killing devastated our family. Even now we wonder if we did the right thing in deciding John Pat should live in the countryside with his younger sisters. We thought he would be safer there than in Armagh city with his oldest sister. We wonder, were we mistaken? Might he still be alive if we had decided differently? John Pat’s murder irretrievably damaged our community’s confidence in the rule of law. If British soldiers could shoot a disabled man dead, shoot him in the back as he ran away, yet never have to give an account of themselves, what did it tell us about the rule of law?

John Pat loved life. He loved playing road-bowls. He worked hard at the Servite Priory and was popular there and on the farms where he helped-out. He was a completely innocent man who did not deserve to die.

Those who murdered him disgrace themselves, their uniform and the state in whose name they bear arms.

Thank you.