UK
21/11/2013 06:20 GMT | Updated 21/11/2013 06:54 GMT

British Army 'Acted Like Terrorists' In Northern Ireland While Battling The IRA

Members of an elite British Army unit have admitted breaking the law by killing unarmed men during the Troubles.

A BBC Panorama documentary reveals details of the Military Reaction Force (MRF), which carried out drive-by shootings of nationalists 40 years ago - without evidence they were IRA members.

One man told the show: "We were not there to act like an Army unit, we were there to act like a terror group.

"We were there in a position to go after IRA and kill them when we found them."

The soldiers wore plain clothes and addressed each other with their first names, the BBC was told.

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The elite soldiers believed military regulations prohibiting firing unless their lives were in immediate danger did not apply to them.

The reaction force had around 40 hand-picked men from across the British Army who addressed each other by first name and dispensed with ranks and identification tags.

patrick mcveigh

Patrick McVeigh was killed by the Military Reaction Force

They operated at the height of the Northern Ireland conflict early in the 1970s, when bombings and shootings by paramilitaries happened almost daily.

Another ex-member said it was part of his mission to draw out the IRA and minimise its activities.

"If they needed shooting they'd be shot," he said.

The Army has a series of rules known as the Yellow Card, which guides when a soldier can open fire lawfully.

Generally, lethal force was only lawful when the lives of members of the security forces or others were in immediate danger.

Another soldier said: "If you had a player who was a well-known shooter who carried out quite a lot of assassinations... it would have been very simple, he had to be taken out."

According to the Panorama programme, to be broadcast tonight, seven former members of the force believed the

Yellow Card did not apply to them and one described it as a "fuzzy red line", meaning they acted as they saw fit.

Some said they would shoot unarmed targets.

The MRF's records have been destroyed but the soldiers denied they were part of a death or assassination squad.

Tony Le Tissier, a major in the Royal Military Police, said: "They were playing at being bandits, they were meant to be sort of IRA outlaws.

"That's why they were in plain clothes, operating plain vehicles and using a Thompson sub machine gun (favoured by the IRA)."

In the early 1970s, nationalists would man barricades in west Belfast aimed at preventing troops from entering.

Some soldiers said they would drive by and open fire, even if they did not see anybody brandishing a gun.

Among those they killed, in May 1972, were father-of-six Patrick McVeigh.

His daughter Patricia said: "We want the truth.

"We don't want to stop until we get the truth."

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