"Death on the Rock
" is a controversial television documentary, an episode of Thames Television
's current affairs series This Week
, broadcast in the United Kingdom on ITV
on 28 April 1988. The programme examined the deaths of three Provisional Irish Republican Army
(IRA) members in Gibraltar
on 6 March 1988 at the hands of the British Special Air Service
(codenamed "Operation Flavius
"). "Death on the Rock" presented evidence that the IRA members were shot without warning or while attempting to surrender. It was condemned by the British government, while tabloid newspapers
denounced it as sensationalist. "Death on the Rock" subsequently became the first individual documentary to be the subject of an independent inquiry, in which it was largely vindicated.
The project began after it emerged that the three IRA members shot in Gibraltar were found to be unarmed and not in possession of a bomb. The series' editor, Roger Bolton
, dispatched journalists to Gibraltar and Spain, where they interviewed several people who witnessed the shootings as well as Spanish police officers who had been involved in surveillance of the IRA team. The journalists also filmed the funerals of the IRA members in Belfast
. Satisfied by the journalists' findings, Bolton sought a conclusion to the programme; as the British government refused to comment, Bolton recruited a leading human rights lawyer to give his opinion on the findings. The documentary was broadcast on 28 April 1988 (just under two months after the shootings), despite two attempts by Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe
to have the Independent Broadcasting Authority
postpone the broadcast. Using the eyewitness statements, the documentary questioned the government's version of events, and suggested that the three IRA members may have been unlawfully killed. Reporter Julian Manyon summed up the programme's findings: none of the witnesses interviewed for the programme heard the soldiers challenge the trio before opening fire, but variously believed they had seen the IRA members shot in the back, with their hands up, or after falling to the ground. The final contributor was the lawyer recruited by Bolton, who suggested that a judicial inquiry was necessary to resolve the conflicts. (Full article...