During a Garda compensation case, Thomas Mansfield told the High Court that he had been deployed, with other unarmed Garda recruits, in the rescue from IRA kidnappers of Mr Tidey at Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, in 1983.
He told Mr Justice Bernard Barton that another recruit, Garda Gary Sheehan, and a member of the Defence Forces, Private Patrick Kelly, had been shot dead during the IRA gun attack. Despite his lifelong injury, Mr Mansfield, formerly of Rathcoole, Co Dublin went on to win An Garda Síochána’s highest award for bravery, the Scott Medal, after rescuing an amputee from a fire in Rathgar, Dublin.
He told the court he had asked for, and had been given a gun when left with other gardaí at a squad car but had been so terrified when an IRA gunman opened fire he had “frozen” and had been unable to shoot at the terrorist. The 56-year-old told his counsel, Richard Kean SC, that he had been a recruit with An Garda Síochána for less than three months when he was sent with others to search for Mr Tidey.
He said the search had been going on for several days and on the evening of December 16, his search party, which included members of the Garda and army, was on its way back to the hotel in which they were staying, when explosions were heard in the wood.
He overheard a radio message “not to shoot at the blue Avenger car” as it was a special task force vehicle.
Mr Mansfield said that as the armed detectives were about to leave him and two other recruits with a detective at the Garda car, he had asked to be given a firearm.
Mr Mansfield told the court a blue Avenger car then drove up in front of them and stopped. Two men got out and ran past them. Another had started shooting at them from the open boot of the car. He said he felt confused for a brief time as they had been told not to shoot at the blue Avenger.
He had then realised the men were terrorists and he dived for cover.
Mansfield, who broke into tears as he recalled the events, said he had been confronted with a conflict “raging in his head” to either do something and risk getting killed or to protect himself. The court heard that the IRA men later moved away. Mr Mansfield later learned that a Garda recruit and a soldier had been killed.
Mr Kean said it was not until 24 years later that Mr Mansfield had understood the depth of his psychological injury, which had given him no option but to take early retirement in 2009.
The case was adjourned to next month where the hearing of Mr Mansfield’s evidence will continue.