Sunday 6 March 1988

Three unarmed Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers were shot dead by undercover members of the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar.  The three were Mairéad Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel Mc Cann.

The episode sparked intense controversy and began a chain of events that lead to a series of deaths in the Six Counties.
The British government claimed that the SAS shot the IRA members because they thought a bomb was about to be detonated. Eyewitnesses said that those shot were given no warning.Magill Carmen ProetaBritish Intelligence and some media tried to discredit one of the witnesses, Carmen Proeta, whose flat overlooked the murder scene and who came forward to say what she had seen. A British newspaper claimed that she was a prostitute running an escort agency and later had to pay her damages in a libel case.
An undercover unit of the Spanish Guardia Civil in the Spanish state had been shadowing the three Volunteers in cooperation with British Intelligence but had lost them just before the border. They were reported unhappy with the unexpected executions carried out by the British death squad. However, it is also true that the Gibraltar killings were carried out less than a year after the last operation of the GAL death-squads (1983-1987), run by the Spanish state with senior Guardia Civil officers and the Minister of the Interior against Basque pro-independence activists.
Tuesday 8 March 1988A car believed to belong to those killed in Gibraltar was found in Marbella and was discovered to contain 140 pounds of high explosives.Wednesday 16 March 1988During the funerals of the three Volunteers at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast a Loyalist gunman, Michael Stone, launched a grenade and gun attack on mourners. Three people were killed and 50 injured. The whole episode was recorded by television news cameras. The police and the army had withdrawn to avoid any confrontation with the mourners. Stone was chased to a nearby motorway were he was attacked by a number of mourners. The police arrived in time to save his life. The main Loyalist paramilitary groups denied any involvement with Stone. One of those killed, Kevin Brady, was a member of the IRA; though unarmed, he had been filmed, along with some others, moving TOWARDS Stone as the Loyalist attacked.



Saturday 19 March 1988

During the funeral of Kevin Brady, killed at Milltown Cemetery (16 March 1988), a car approached the funeral procession at high speed. It was claimed by some present that they feared another attack by Loyalist gunmen. The car’s passage was blocked and a group of the mourners attacked the two passengers, killing them. They were two soldiers in plain clothes and their purpose was never adequately explained.



28 April 1988

Thames Television, as part of the ITV television current affairs series “This Week”, screened a documentary about the killings called “Death on the Rock”. The documentary examined the deaths of three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) members in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988 at the hands of British special forces (codenamed “Operation Flavius”).

The documentary presented evidence that the British government’s version of events was inaccurate and that the three IRA members had been shot without warning or while attempting to surrender, for which it was extensively criticised. The programme was condemned by the Government—who had attempted to have the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) postpone its broadcast—while tabloid newspapers accused it of sensationalism and “trial by television”.

Over the following weeks, several newspapers attempted to undermine the documentary by attacking its witnesses or presenting its findings as distorted or inaccurate. After one of the documentary’s witnesses retracted his evidence at the inquest into the shootings, Thames Television commissioned an independent inquiry into the making of “Death on the Rock”—the first such inquiry into a single television programme—headed by Lord Windlesham and Richard Rampton, QC. The Windlesham-Rampton report largely vindicated “Death on the Rock”, and found, with two exceptions, that it had accurately portrayed the evidence of its witnesses.

Thames lost its franchise and the IBA was abolished as a result of the Broadcasting Act 1990, decisions which many people believed were influenced by the Government’s anger at “Death on the Rock”.



September 1995

The European Court of Human Rights found the British government guilty of violating Article Two of the European Convention, which protects a person’s right to life. In the first decision of its kind against a government, the court stated that the British had failed to uphold “the standard expected of a democratic government” when they shot dead three IRA Volunteers in Gibraltar in 1988.



(Air: Glencoe Massacre)

Sad are three homes in Belfast now —
All Ireland shares their sorrow;
Mairéad Farrell, Sean Savage, and Daniel McCann …
They died on the streets of Gibraltar

They flew out of Belfast with an ambitious plan
To continue the struggle to free Ireland;
Mairéad Farrell, Sean Savage, and Daniel McCann:
They died on the streets of Gibraltar

Sad are three homes in Belfast now —
Old Ireland shares their sorrow;
As they walked in the sun, the Brits drew their guns
And blood stained the streets of Gibraltar

The SAS stood there so proud of their deed
Three more freedom fighters lay dead in the street
They’ve been given no warning no chance to retreat
For three had to die in Gibraltar


Each of them unarmed, without mercy gunned down,
Shot again in the head as they lay on the ground,
By the Special Air Service, assassins of the Crown,
They were murdered on the streets of Gibraltar.


This song, slightly different version to the one I have, was written I think by the Irish Brigade. The 3rd verse above is mine entirely, written over a decade ago while I was still living in London.

There are also a couple of other songs about the events and Roger Bolton, the TV documentary maker, wrote a book “Death on the Rock and other stories”.  The track of one of the other songs, Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep, written by I think Catherine Jenkins, is on this video which has extracts from an interview with Mairéad Farrell




 28 JANUARY 1985 – 6 MARCH 1988
Was studying for his ‘A’-levels when imprisoned on remand in 1982 on the word of an informer who subsequently retracted. He joined the IRA when he was seventeen years old.


3 MARCH 1957 – 6 MARCH 1988
Imprisoned in 1976. She took part in the 1980 hunger strike. She was Officer Commanding of Republican prisoners in Armagh prison throughout the 1981 hunger strike and was very well liked and highly respected by the female POWs. Released in 1986, she campaigned actively against strip-searching and returned to IRA duty.


30 NOVEMBER 1957 – 6 MARCH 1988
First imprisoned in 1973 and on three subsequent occasions. From 1979-1981 he was in prison ‘on the blanket’ during the campaign for political status. He had been the target of British Army death threats and survived a loyalist assassination attempt.


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