A fresh inquest into the death of a seventeen-year-old boy in Belfast during the conflict in Northern Ireland has concluded that he was deliberately killed by British soldiers. Leo Norney was 17 years old when he was shot by Lance Corporal John Ross MacKay, a former Black Watch soldier, after getting out of a taxi at Shepherd’s Path in the Turf Lodge area of West Belfast. Coroner Patrick McGurgan concluded that Mr Norney’s killing was unjustified and it had been covered up by members of the patrol. ‘I am satisfied that the deceased Leo Norney was an innocent young man who happened to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time walking home from a night out’, he observed.
Mr. McGurgan also criticised the Ministry of Defence for not identifying that Mr MacKay posed a risk to the public, despite him being convicted of a violent offence and serving time in prison prior to the killing. ‘There was a failure to consider the risk of putting a soldier with a conviction background and on release from prison two months earlier in charge of patrolling a civilian area,’ he said. This failure, according to Mr. McGurgan, was compounded by the fact that the other soldiers with Mr MacKay shot at the victim and gave false accounts of what happened out of fear to cover up what happened, ‘concocting a story they were being fired on and returned fire’. Drawing on the evidence provided by an Army veteran referred to as ‘M2’, who had been present at the time of the shooting, the coroner noted that Mr MacKay was ‘at best a strong personality and at worst a bully who was aggressive and unpredictable and who was able to intimidate his patrol as well as individuals above him’.
The coroner went on to find that had Mr MacKay been supervised, Mr Norney’s death could have been prevented and determined that he would share the inquest findings with the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Responding to the inquest’s conclusions, Fiona Doherty KC, counsel for the Norney family, described the findings as ‘devastating’. The coroner’s verdict was also welcomed by members of Mr Norney’s family: speaking outside the court, his niece Linda said that ‘the British Army did not just kill Leo. They also murdered his good name. Later that night after the soldiers returned to their base, they concocted a false story which blackened Leo’s name for almost 50 years. They said that Leo was a gunman and that Leo had opened fire on them.’
‘Today, that narrative has been exposed for the deceit and lies that it is, and Leo’s good reputation has been restored.’