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"Death on the Rock": 21 years later and still the official version lives on


Katayusha Mk2

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David Elstein, 23 November 2009

Many of us have recently been re-living a key event of 1989, with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember it clearly, but an event in the previous year, 1988, is etched even more sharply in my mind: the shooting of three IRA members by an SAS squad on the streets of Gibraltar. As Director of Programmes at Thames Television at the time, I had approved the making of a documentary about the killings by the This Week team: “Death on the Rock”. It was a serious investigation that challenged the official version of events and quite an argument ensued.

Last month, Christopher Andrew, Professor of History at Cambridge and a leading expert on intelligence services, published “The Defence of the Realm”, a massive official history of MI5. A number of his enthusiastic reviewers suggested he had shed new light on the Gibraltar affair. I decided to check.
 


consultant

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I remember the event, the programme and an article in MaGill at the time. Serious questions were raised but never answered and the subsequent inquiry was all spooks, cloaks and daggers.

The British tabloids at the time spouted anti-Irish jingoism promoting the 'bravery' and 'professionalism' of the under-cover SAS unit that shot and killed the IRA activists. They also vilified and branded as a 'whore' a Spanish lady, resident in Gibraltar, whose eye-witness account given both to the programme makers and to the inquiry was diametrically opposed to that of the anonymous SAS members involved in the shootings which they had claimed were all in self defence.

There are still questions.
 

Mitsui2

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I actually remember hearing reports of the shootings on the radio news. Was it a Sunday when it happened, or is memory playing tricks? I'd recently returned to Ireland, had no tv and listened a lot to Radio4. Right from the first reports I remember thinking that the account given just didn't add up, and the more details that emerged, the more the holes in the official story became obvious.

I'm no conspiracy theorist but there was clearly a cover up it always seemed to me. A definite instance of shooting to kill. The original cover story was botched but the British were stuck with it since they'd rushed it out, and from there on it became an increasingly ludicrous effort to paper over the cracks. A classic example of being in a hole and being more or less forced to keep on digging.
 

Mitsui2

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Forgot to say that the first reports, as best I recall, definitely mentioned a "shootout" and a bomb, neither of which was true.

Thanks for the link, which refreshed the memory uncomfortably about the incident itself and the murderous period it ushered in. I remember at the time thinking that I finally understood what the phrase 'febrile atmosphere' really meant. As best I can remember, everything in your account is documented fact (though much is of course officially denied). I used to have a copy of Private Eye's "Death On the Rock" special, which I wish I still had.
 
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hiding behind a poster

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Of course the fact that the IRA, of which the Gibralter 3 were active members, had no problem with shooting without warning those whom they deemed to be combatants in their conflict, goes without comment from those here who are lionising them and claiming foul play by the SAS.

Sauce for the goose, lads - if you're gonna give it, then be prepared to take it.
 

Clanrickard

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Of course the fact that the IRA, of which the Gibralter 3 were active members, had no problem with shooting without warning those whom they deemed to be combatants in their conflict, goes without comment from those here who are lionising them and claiming foul play by the SAS.

Sauce for the goose, lads - if you're gonna give it, then be prepared to take it.
While I agree with the sentiments it is worth bearing in mind one substantial difference. The SAS are part of the British army and therefore servants of the state (or the Queen in Britain). They should be upholding and seen to be upholding law and order. The IRA are criminals, outside the law in fact they are dedicated to breaking the law. You cannot say that just because the IRA do it it is ok for forces of law and order in Britain and Ireland to do it
 

conspiracy theorist

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I really don't see the big deal, 3 leading members of PIRA on Active Service (Or maybe they were eco tourist's eh?) in Gibraltar get taken out by British Special Forces, PIRA had declared war on The British and you know what happens in wars? Call it Shoot to kill or whatever you like but it's mainly the supporters of PIRA thats crying foul even though PIRA themselves used the dirtiest of tricks to kill and maim, They never gave any warnings to their victims before gunning them down or blowing them to pieces, If you fight with fire you get burnt...simples.
 

Mitsui2

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While I agree with the sentiments it is worth bearing in mind one substantial difference. The SAS are part of the British army and therefore servants of the state (or the Queen in Britain). They should be upholding and seen to be upholding law and order. The IRA are criminals, outside the law in fact they are dedicated to breaking the law. You cannot say that just because the IRA do it it is ok for forces of law and order in Britain and Ireland to do it
This would be pretty much my position too. The bombers went to Gibraltar to plant a bomb. If they saw themselves as soldiers then the possibility or even likelihood of death goes with the job. They went to plant a bomb & they were stopped - end of.

It was the complete hypocrisy of the UK establishment that very much stuck in my craw at the time - that and the p1ss-poor nature of the story they cobbled together to cover up what I think I would otherwise have seen as a legitimate exercise in self defence.

The important point far as I'm concerned is that in the course of this cover-up the entire panoply of UK justice and "fair play" was - for neither the first nor the last time - ultimately dragged into disrepute and made a mockery of (yet again).

If that's what "investigations" are for, fine by me: but those who use investigations in this fashion cannot then turn around and expect their demonstrably notional "attachment" to such values to be respected or even believed in. Cover-ups on such a scale do enormous damage to the fabric of public trust, and public trust is ultimately far more important for a functioning democracy than any government's glorified spin - as we should be all too aware of in our own little kleptocracy.
 

consultant

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I really don't see the big deal, 3 leading members of PIRA on Active Service (Or maybe they were eco tourist's eh?) in Gibraltar get taken out by British Special Forces, PIRA had declared war on The British and you know what happens in wars? Call it Shoot to kill or whatever you like but it's mainly the supporters of PIRA thats crying foul even though PIRA themselves used the dirtiest of tricks to kill and maim, They never gave any warnings to their victims before gunning them down or blowing them to pieces, If you fight with fire you get burnt...simples.
Actually, I haven't read anything in any of the posts on this thread that can be construed as pro-IRA (in any of its guises) sentiment. Certainly, I would neither support nor condone any of their activities including the Gibralter "mission".

I would strongly, however, condemn and oppose Britain's history regarding anti-terrorist activities and subsequent cover-ups. Bloody Sunday? Birmingham 6? Guildford 4? Iraq?
 

Keith-M

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It was the complete hypocrisy of the UK establishment that very much stuck in my craw at the time - that and the p1ss-poor nature of the story they cobbled together to cover up what I think I would otherwise have seen as a legitimate exercise in self defence.
This is the core point here, does the end justifies the means. I think all right minded people will have no problem with the end result here, three less terrorists to worry about and the lives of the innocent have have preserved but the means were open open to debate. I believe that if the SAS members who successfully intercepted the terrorists thought that their lives were under threat or that they could no arrest the terrorists with the potential loss of innocent lives, then they were quite within their rights, however if an arrest was possible without loss of life then that should have been the preffered option.
 

Stendec

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David Elstein, 23 November 2009

Many of us have recently been re-living a key event of 1989, with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember it clearly, but an event in the previous year, 1988, is etched even more sharply in my mind: the shooting of three IRA members by an SAS squad on the streets of Gibraltar. As Director of Programmes at Thames Television at the time, I had approved the making of a documentary about the killings by the This Week team: “Death on the Rock”. It was a serious investigation that challenged the official version of events and quite an argument ensued.

Last month, Christopher Andrew, Professor of History at Cambridge and a leading expert on intelligence services, published “The Defence of the Realm”, a massive official history of MI5. A number of his enthusiastic reviewers suggested he had shed new light on the Gibraltar affair. I decided to check.
they were a shower of murderin basterds an now there dead noone cares any more!!!!!!
 

Mitsui2

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I think all right minded people will have no problem with the end result here,
I just feel the need to dissassociate myself from the term "right minded people"! I agree with what you say, Keith, but I've heard the term used by far too many crazies and/or cynics to want the tag hanging around my own neck. No comment on yourself at all, K-M, but many of us happily "wrong-minded" people agree too!
 

mr_anderson

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Ive never understood the controversy.

The IRA wasn't there for the sun, sand and sangria, it was there to kill (God only knows how many innocent tourists would have been wiped out).
Unfortunately for them, they were the ones who got assassinated.

What did the IRA expect ?
They send a murder squad, but the brits are only allowed to send street bobbies to arrest them ?
If you play with fire, you run the risk of getting burnt to a crisp.
 

conspiracy theorist

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Actually, I haven't read anything in any of the posts on this thread that can be construed as pro-IRA (in any of its guises) sentiment. Certainly, I would neither support nor condone any of their activities including the Gibralter "mission".

I would strongly, however, condemn and oppose Britain's history regarding anti-terrorist activities and subsequent cover-ups. Bloody Sunday? Birmingham 6? Guildford 4? Iraq?
I did not say everyone, That is why I used the word 'Mainly' You have to admit that at the time and still today those that are whinging foul play would come from mainly the pro PIRA/Militant Republicanism point of view.
 

hiding behind a poster

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While I agree with the sentiments it is worth bearing in mind one substantial difference. The SAS are part of the British army and therefore servants of the state (or the Queen in Britain). They should be upholding and seen to be upholding law and order. The IRA are criminals, outside the law in fact they are dedicated to breaking the law. You cannot say that just because the IRA do it it is ok for forces of law and order in Britain and Ireland to do it
That's true - but I didn't say it was ok for the British to do it. What I said is that its basically hypocritical of the IRA to be complaining about other people doing to them exactly what they (the IRA) were doing to other people.
 
D

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Is it not interesting that Spain has a long-standing claim on the Rock but they seem to be able to keep their complaints at the verbal level. And, make no mistake, the Spanish people resent the Brit control of Gib - although they don´t waste their lives obsessing about it. Yet the NI mucksavages seem to be able to justify going down and killing innocent people there - Brits, Irish, Spaniards, Gibraltarians and visitors from all over the world. Strange old world.:(
 

goatstoe

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Ive never understood the controversy.

The IRA wasn't there for the sun, sand and sangria, it was there to kill (God only knows how many innocent tourists would have been wiped out).
Unfortunately for them, they were the ones who got assassinated.

What did the IRA expect ?
They send a murder squad, but the brits are only allowed to send street bobbies to arrest them ?
If you play with fire, you run the risk of getting burnt to a crisp.
I agree with your point the IRA could hardly complain about being gunned down when it was obvoius that they were there to plant a bomb that would kill or maim - all is fair in love and war etc.. I do remember the programme was remarkable - a British made programme exposing a British forces "shoot to kill policy". The British govt. and armed forces at the time flatly denied the shoot to kill policy. It was their contention that they were not at war with PIRA, they did not want to give PIRA the status of war combatants. In the long run the British Govt. under John Major ended up negotiating with PIRA as war combatants anyhow (Major at the time said it turned his stomach but he still negotiated the ceasefires that ultimately lead to the GFA). Time has moved on may we never see the likes of those days again.
 
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minstrelboy

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I too remember those events and cheering them. If it was 'shoot to kill' (hope it was), then my only regret was that there weren't many more events like it.
 

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