Leo Norney was only 17 years old when he was shot dead by British soldiers on the 13th September 1975. The British Army falsely accused Leo of being a gunman who opened fire on Corporal McKay and other members of a Black Watch army patrol. For nearly 50 years the Norney family have fought to clear his name. On Friday 30 June 2023 coroner John McGurgan found that Corporal McKay shot dead an ‘entirely innocent’ teenager in Belfast in 1975 and that other members of the patrol concocted a story of being fired on to cover it up.
In September 1976 at the original inquest into Leo’s death McKay alleged that Leo was a gunman. In a statement read out at the inquest Corporal John Ross McKay said he was the leader of a four-man patrol when they were fired upon by two gunmen. He fired shots from his SLR rifle and one of the gunmen fell to the ground but the other one escaped. Father Denis Faul later produced a pamphlet which rejected the claims by the British army that Leo Norney had been a gunman. Witnesses spoken to by Denis Faul said that Leo Norney had been a passenger in a Black taxi that was searched at a checkpoint by soldiers on the Whiterock Road. He got out of the taxi at the top of the Whiterock Road and was making his way across Shepherds Path to Turf Lodge when he was shot dead.
On the 4th February 1977 five members of the Black Watch Regiment were convicted of planting bullets in the vehicles of civilians in four separate incidents in West Belfast that had occurred in September and October 1975 two months after Leo Norney’s death. Those convicted included Corporal John Ross McKay, Private Gene Palmer and Private Douglas Murphy who had been involved in the shooting of Leo Norney.
In 2014 Relatives for Justice (RfJ) discovered documents in the National Archive Centre, London that exposed the attempts by the British state to label Leo Norney as a gunman. The documents related to correspondence between the RUC Chief Constable and the head of the British Army and their attempts to make Leo Norney out as having been involved in a shooting incident. In February 2014, the Attorney General granted a new inquest into the death of Leo Norney. The reasons he gave was that the soldiers directly involved in the death of Leo did not give a candid account of their involvement in his death and the subsequent conviction on serious offences (planting of ammunition) of soldier A, soldier B and soldier C, undermines their credibility and integrity.
That new inquest into the death of Leo Norney delivered its verdict on Friday 30th June 2023. The coroner Judge Patrick McGurgan found that it was a ‘deliberate act’ by Corporal McKay to kill Leo Norney. He went out that night to ‘waste someone’ said the coroner and other members of the British army patrol covered up for McKay.
In a scathing set of findings, the Coroner said McKay should never have been allowed back into the army as he had completed a sentence for seriously assaulting a police officer in Scotland. He was only released from prison two months before Leo Norney’s death. The coroner said the British Army then put him in charge of a patrol when he was a clear danger to the public. In a heartbreaking reflection for his family, Mr McGurgan pointed out that if McKay had been thrown out of the British Army Leo Norney would still be alive.
The family reaction read out outside the court by Leo’s niece, Linda Norney, demonstrated the hurt and anguish the Norney family have felt for the past 50 years. It also showed that as a family they never ever gave up in exposing the lies of the British Army and clearing Leo’s name.
“Today, we, the family of Leo Norney who was shot and killed by the Black Watch regiment of the British Army, welcome the Coroner’s findings as to how Leo died. Leo was only a boy of 17. He had just got out of a taxi and was going to meet his girlfriend. “Leo was not armed. He did not pose a threat to anyone. He was shot in cold blood and his shooting is unjustified. “However, 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.
“Today, that narrative has been exposed for the deceit and lies that it is, and Leo’s good reputation has been restored. It is sad that it was necessary for my family to have to pursue this for so long, but the British Army left our family with no alternative. Had they had the courage and moral decency to tell the truth in 1975 then this process would not have been necessary. “We also remember today Leo’s parents; his father Francis died prematurely aged 50 due to the heartbreak he suffered by Leo’s death and his mother, Annie, who campaigned endlessly until her death to clear Leo’s name.
Had the current British government legacy bill, currently passing its way through Westminster, been in place then this inquest and these findings would never have been delivered – never seen the light of day.
This is precisely the why the British government is bringing in this cover-up impunity bill.