Thursday 28 May 2020


The Provisional IRA tried to ambush a plain-clothed soldier as he drove through Londonderry.  The resulting gun battle left two terrorists dead, although accounts of the shootout differ.  The army said only one soldier was involved, but the IRA claimed that two carloads of SAS troops arrived during the incident and opened fire.

Both sides agree that the soldier was trailed by four IRA men in the Brandywell area of the city.  The shootout began when the car stopped at a junction and both accounts agree that the soldier inside shot and killed 24-year-old gunman George McBrearty.  The IRA say McBrearty approached the vehicle and asked the soldier to identify himself, but the soldier opened fire and killed him.  At this point two other cars containing soldiers are said to have arrived and opened fire on the remaining three IRA men.  21-year-old Charles Maguire was killed and a third wounded.  The IRA maintain to this day that all the soldiers involved - including the lone soldier - were members of the SAS.  They have never provided any evidence to back up these claims.

The army say that the lone soldier shot and killed both men and wounded a third before managing to drive away.  The soldier's car was found to have six bullet holes in it.  Following the shootout the two IRA survivors drove back to the Creggan area where they burned out the car they had used in the bungled attack.  The car had been hijacked earlier.

Mural for killed terrorist George McBrearty unveiled in 2017

During the Troubles the IRA often blamed the SAS when they suffered losses.  In his book about the SAS campaign in Northern Ireland, British journalist Mark Urban claims that the lone soldier was a member of the 14th Intelligence Company, also known as the Special Reconnaisance Unit.  This unit often operated in plain clothes as it was involved in surveillance.  Recruits received SAS training, but the unit was not attached to the SAS.

Evidence at the inquest showed that the soldier had fired 11 shots in total, but the three terrorists were struck by 14 bullets, lending some credence to the IRA version of events.  Mark Urban believes that the discrepancy was down to a mistake in the soldier's testimony and in his book quotes unnamed military and republican sources that agree only one soldier was involved in the incident.  Three years later Sergeant Paul Oram, of the 14th Intelligence Company, was killed in a gun battle with the IRA.  The Times newspaper claimed that Sgt Oram was the lone soldier involved in the shooting of McBrearty and Maguire.

The IRA man wounded in the Londonderry shootout was later sentenced to five years for possession of two Armalite rifles and attempting to hijack an MoD vehicle.  Republican commemorations for McBrearty and Maguire are still held each year in Londonderry.