Inquiry completed into death of soldier shot in Lebanon

THE findings of a long-awaited garda inquiry into the fatal shooting of a young Irish soldier in Lebanon was finally revealed to his family last night.

Army private Kevin Barrett died after a single gunshot wound to the head while serving with the 84th battalion in 1999. An independent investigation into the 20-year-old’s death was completed some weeks ago.

Gardaí contacted his mother, Helen, last night at her Donegal home to outline the report’s findings to her. A statement on behalf of Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy was released to the Irish Examiner by the garda press office. It read: “The investigation into the death of Pte Barrett involved interviewing in excess of 50 persons and was recently completed by a Detective Chief Superintendent who is now arranging to meet the family of the late Pte Barrett to brief them on the investigation.

“When this task is completed the file will be forwarded to the appropriate government department.”

Pte Barrett was found dead in the sleeping quarters of an observation post at the Unifil base in south Lebanon on February 17, 1999. He had been on peacekeeping duty. He was in his billet with two other Irish soldiers, all of whom had consumed numerous cans of beer.

Despite a previous military inquiry stating the death was “accidental” with no evidence to suggest suicide, investigations were heavily criticised. Helen Barrett has questioned why part of a shell was missing from the gun fired. In addition, she said marks and cuts on her son’s hands when his body was returned home suggested “something seriously” must have happened.

An overview by former Garda Complaints Board chief executive Sean Hurley of the Defence Force’s investigation last year was damning. Mr Hurley said the investigation was “technically incomplete” and did “not constitute an effective investigation”.

The soldier’s inquest also returned an open verdict.

Gardaí carried out tests on the billet in which the young soldier died. Ballistic tests were also carried out on Pte Barrett’s rifle to see if it was used to fire shots which penetrated the billet.

One of the key interviews was with Martin McCourt, an army corporal believed to be the only witness to Pte Barrett’s death.

Defence Minister Willie O’Dea hopes to meet with the late soldier’s family within the next week.

His spokesperson said: “A liaison officer with the department made contact with the family after gardaí did.”

More in this section