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Civilian Casualties from British Military: The Troubles (Northern Ireland)

This section provides a detailed account of recorded civilian casualties that resulted from the British military’s involvement in the Northern Ireland conflict (The Troubles).

When did this conflict occur?

14th August, 1969^ – 31st July, 2007*

^ – Though British military forces first arrived to assist the Royal Ulster Constabulary on the 14th of August, violent clashes between Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists had begun two days earlier on the 12th of August. [1]

* – The remaining British contingent serving under Operation Banner departed Northern Ireland on the 31st of July, 2007; however, violence directed at British forces had largely subsided following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April of 1998. [2]

What is the background to this conflict?

Since 1921, the island nation of Ireland has been divided into two separate states: a predominantly Catholic Republic of Ireland in the South, which achieved independence from British rule in 1921, and the Protestant-majority Northern Ireland that remains part of the United Kingdom. A minority Catholic population remained in the North and coalesced around major population centres such as Belfast and Derry; however, instances of mistreatment at the hands of the Protestant-majority government and police force remained common into the mid-20th century. [3] These sectarian divides gradually hardened, and the territory found itself divided between Catholic ‘Nationalists’, favouring reunification with the Republic of Ireland, and Protestant ‘Loyalists’, who sought to retain Northern Ireland’s connection to the United Kingdom. Beginning in 1960 and inspired by the tactics employed by the African American civil rights movement, Catholic youth in Northern Ireland began staging a series of protests against what was viewed as blatant discrimination in areas such as employment and housing, which effectively established a system of de-facto segregation along sectarian and religious lines. [4] These demonstrations were met with violence by both Protestant Loyalist groups in addition to the Northern Irish police service, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which staged a baton charge against the Catholic-led Derry Housing Action Committee that wounded nearly 100 protestors in 1968. [5] Tensions between the Catholic and Protestant populace continued the following year, and culminated in the outbreak of fatal clashes when the Protestant-dominated Apprentice Boys staged a Loyalist demonstration which passed by the Catholic Bogside district of Derry. Attempts by the Royal Ulster Constabulary to force its way into Bogside failed as Catholic demonstrators retaliated with stones and Molotov cocktails; facing a continued escalation of social unrest, Northern Irish Prime Minister Captain Terence O’Neil formally requested UK military support for the RUC, with British forces arriving in Northern Ireland on the 14th of August, 1969. [6] What followed was the longest continuous troop deployment in British military history, with UK servicemembers and the RUC engaged in a brutal counterinsurgency campaign as violence erupted between Republican irregular armed formations, including the Irish Republican Army, and Loyalist paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force. [7] A political settlement reached between Loyalist, Republican, British, and Irish leaders  in 1998 effectively ended the Troubles, with the remaining British forces engaged in internal stability operations in Northern Ireland departing by 2007.

What role did British military forces play?

The British military response to the outbreak of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland was known as Operation Banner and  initially centred around the deployment of First Battalion, the Prince of Wales’ Own Regiment of Yorkshire, to separate Loyalist and Nationalist demonstrators in Bogside in August of 1969. [8] Though initially welcomed by Catholic Nationalists as a protective force, local perceptions of UK servicemembers gradually shifted as British forces searched homes for hidden arms caches, instituted a policy of internment without trial, and arrested suspected members of Nationalist armed groups. Engaged in a traditional internal security role, the British military effort in Northern Ireland centred largely on small patrols operating from heavily fortified garrisons in major urban centres in addition to a parallel effort to interdict the movement of arms, equipment, and personnel in the Nationalist-dominated County Armagh. [9] As the British presence expanded, so too did membership in Loyalist and Nationalist paramilitary organisations who initiated relentless campaigns of bombings, drive-by shootings, and targeted assassinations. Loyalist groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force targeted Catholic civilians and property in both Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland, with a series of coordinated bombings in Dublin and Monaghan resulting in 33 deaths; Nationalist movements, most notably the Provisional Irish Republic Army, carried out similar attacks throughout the United Kingdom and, in August of 1979, succeeded in assassinating Lord Louis Mountbatten with an explosive device attached to his fishing boat. [10] British security forces soon adapted their tactics, shifting increased responsibility onto the RUC and forming clandestine intelligence organisations such as the Force Research Unit and Military Reaction Force responsible for handling human intelligence sources, conducting surveillance, and launching targeted direct action operations against suspected Nationalists. [11] Though marred by allegations of collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries in addition to instances of civilian killings, the British military role in Northern Ireland continued following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 until the end of Operation Banner in July of 2007. Nonetheless, British servicemembers remained present in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of Op Banner, with elements of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment deploying in 2010 to assist the newly-founded Police Service of Northern Ireland with technical surveillance operations against suspected dissidents. [12]

Can a figure of civilian deaths due to British military action be determined?

Yes. Over the course of the 30 years 188 civilians were killed by the British military [13]. In contrast to the 188 civilians killed, according to the British Ministry of Defence, 1,441 British soldiers were killed between 1969 and 2007 [14]. 

Are there any trends or incidents of note?

The Northern Ireland Troubles were extensively documented and civilian deaths meticulously recorded. CAIN Archive and INCORE developed ‘Accounts of the Conflict’ which keeps a record of personal accounts of the conflict and can be found in the endnotes [15]. 

The Malcolm Sutton Index, as part of CAIN, has also done extensive work to analyse the incidents of civilian deaths. Of the 188 civilians killed by the British military, 162 were Catholic, 22 were Protestants and 4 were ‘Not from Northern Ireland’ [16]. 170 were men and 18 were women [17]. 29 were children under the age of 16, including as young as 10 and 11 year-olds [18]. 30 civilians were killed during what was referred to as “criminal activity”, such as robberies; 26 were killed in street disturbances; 13 were killed during gun battles with Republican paramilitary forces; 7 were mistaken for Republican paramilitary forces and killed by special undercover military forces; 10 were killed during altercations with British forces; 16 were killed by rubber or plastic bullets, including children; and for 86 there was no obvious pattern of killings [19]. The bloodiest year for civilian deaths, as a culmination of civilian deaths committed by all involved parties of the conflict, was 1972 when a total of 249 civilians were killed. 

  • 9th-11th August 1971: Known as the “Ballymurphy Massacre”, between the 9th and 11th of August 1971, under the British Government’s introduction of ‘Interment Without Trial’, over 600 British soldiers entered the Ballymurphy area of West Belfast where they preceded to raid homes and round up, predominantly Catholic, men. During this 3 day period 11 civilians were killed by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment [20].
  • 30th January 1972: The 30th January 1972 is more widely known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ when 14 unarmed civilians were killed by British forces. In Bogside, a predominantly Catholic part of Londonderry, members of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment, opened fire on civil rights demonstrators [21]. Thousands had gathered in Derry that day for a rally organised by the ‘Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association’ to protest at internment. 13 civilians were shot dead at the scene and at least 15 others were injured, one of whom later died, taking the total civilian deaths to 14 [22]. According to Army evidence, reported by the BBC, 21 soldiers fired their weapons, discharging 108 live rounds between them [23]. After an initial inquiry into the killings, the ‘Widgery Tribunal’, in 1998 then-Prime Minister Tony Blair announced there would be a new inquiry. The ‘Saville Inquiry’ was the longest-running inquiry in British legal history. It found that none of the casualties were posing a threat or behaving in any such way that would justify their shooting [24]. 
  • 9th July 1972: A Catholic Priest, Noel Fitzpatrick, was shot dead by a British Army sniper along with 3 children aged 13, 15 and 16. The shots were taken from the British Army observation post in Corry’s Timber Yard, and all 4 were killed either in or outside of Westrock Drive [25].
  • 10th August 1976: A more controversial incident, Daniel Lennon, 23, a member of the IRA was shot whilst driving his car away from an attempted ambush of the British Army on foot patrol. After being shot the car went out of control and mounted the pavement, hitting and killing 3 young children. Joanne Maguire, 9, John Maguire, 3, and Andrew Maguire, 0, were all hit and killed by the car. The deaths are recorded as ‘Killed by: not known (nk)’, however, it is clear members of the British Army were inadvertently involved in the incident [26]. 
  • 6th March 1988: Another controversial incident occurred in Gibraltar, when three unarmed members of the IRA were shot dead in Gibraltar by British Special Air Service (SAS) troops. ‘Operation Flavius’ was conducted to prevent a suspected planned bombing by the IRA in Gibralter, however, the killing of Sean Savage, Daniel McCann and Mairead Farrell, sparked widespread controversy as the 3 were unarmed. In September 1988 an inquest was carried out which determined the deaths as ‘lawful killings’. However, this decision was subsequently appealed by the deceased’s families to the European Court of Human Rights, which determined that the killings were unlawful under the European Convention on Human Rights. The killings provoked a ‘bloody fortnight’ when during the funeral in Belfast, members of the UDA stormed in with automatic pistols and hand grenades, killing 3 more people. Subsequently, at the funeral of Kevin Brady, one of those killed, a grey Volkswagen Passat driven by two off-duty British Army corporals drove into the crowd and the two corporals were later killed by the crowd [27].

In July 2021, Boris Johnson’s government announced its intention to introduce a ‘statute of limitations’ on prosecutions related to the Troubles [28]. It essentially places a ban on bringing forward any cases related to the Troubles and is understood to apply to former members of the security forces as well as ex-paramilitaries. Some victims’ groups have expressed opposition to the proposal, as many families, for example those who lost loved ones during the Ballymurphy Massacre, are still seeking justice through accountability.  The five main political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish government have also been highly critical of a statute of limitations on prosecutions related to offences during the Troubles [29]. 


[1] 1969: British troops sent into Northern Ireland, BBC On This Day, 2005,

[2] The end of Operation Banner, The Guardian, 2007,

[3] Munck, Ronnie, “The Making of the Troubles in Northern Ireland,” Journal of Contemporary History 27, no. 2 (1992): 211–215.

[4] David Capener, “Belfast’s housing policy still reflects religious and economic division,” The Guardian, 2017,

[5] Ronan McGreevy, “How the Troubles began: a timeline,” The Irish Times, 2019,

[6]  Garrett, J. Brian, “Ten Years of British Troops in Northern Ireland,” International Security 4, no. 3 (1979): 85.

[7] The Troubles, National Army Museum, 2017,

[8] Simon Hunter, “Op Banner: Key Moments Of The Army’s Longest Continuous Deployment,” Forces, 2020,

[9] Paul, Christopher et al., “Northern Ireland, 1969–1999: Case Outcome: COIN Win (Mixed, Favoring COIN),” In Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies, (California: RAND Corporation, 2013): 323. 

[10] “What You Need to Know About The Troubles”, Imperial War Museum, 2022,

[11] Paul, “Northern Ireland,” 324.

[12] Forces are a threat – McGuiness, BBC News, 2009,

[13] Sutton, M., “CAIN: Sutton Index: Status Summary by Organisation Summary”, CAIN Archive, 2022,

[14] DASA Health Information Head, “Freedom of Information Request: Operation Banner soldiers that died”,  What Do They Know, Ministry of Defence, 2013,

[15]. CAIN & INCORE, “Accounts of the Conflict”, Ulster University,

[16] CAIN, “Religion Summary by Organisation Summary where ‘Status Summary’ is Civilian, CAIN Archive,

[17] CAIN, “Gender by Organisation Summary where ‘Status Summary’ is Civilian”, CAIN Archive,

[18] CAIN, “Age Summary by Organisation Summary where ‘Status Summary’ is Civilian, CAIN Archive,

[19] Sutton, M., “Bear in Mind These Deaths…An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969-1993”, Beyond the Pale Publications, 1994,

[20] The Ballymurphy Massacre, “The Massacre”, The Ballymurphy Massacre,

[21] BBC, “Bloody Sunday: What Happened on 30 June 1972?”, BBC, 2019,

[22] BBC, “Bloody Sunday: What Happened on 30 June 1972?”, BBC, 2019,

[23] BBC, “Bloody Sunday: What Happened on 30 June 1972?”, BBC, 2019,

[24] BBC, “Bloody Sunday: What Happened on 30 June 1972?”, BBC, 2019,

[25] CAIN, “Malcolm Sutton Index: 1972”, CAIN Archive,

[26] CAIN, “Malcolm Sutton Index: 1976”, CAIN Archive,

[27]  Brennan, C., “30 years ago a trio of killings sparked on the darkest, most bizarre, fortnights of The Troubles”, The, 2018,

[28] BBC, “Plan to end all NI Troubles prosecutions confirmed”, BBC News, 2021,

[29] BBC, “Plan to end all NI Troubles prosecutions confirmed”, BBC News, 2021,