THE European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has asked the government to justify its use of lethal force in the killings of two members of the Provisional IRA.

Dessie Grew, 37, and Martin McCaughey, 23, were shot dead in October 1990 by the SAS at a remote farmhouse near Loughgall, Co Armagh, after they collected weapons from a shed. The ECHR, which is based in Strasbourg, France, has also asked Britain to explain why no inquest into the deaths was held. Lawyers representing the dead men’s families have argued that the government breached their rights by failing to provide an “effective and official” investigation into the killings.

The family of McCaughey, a Sinn Fein councillor from Galbally, Co Tyrone, say he was shot in the head 10 times. According to the dossier sent by lawyers to Strasbourg, Grew, a convicted member of the IRA from Charlemont, near Loughgall, had 48 bullet wounds. No shot was fired by either of the deceased, who were killed by four undercover soldiers. More than 70 shots were fired in the attack.

Peter McCaughey, Martin’s brother, said his family welcomed the ECHR’s decision to examine the deaths. “My family has sought justice for over 20 years. We want to know why Martin and Dessie were shot dead and why they were not arrested at the scene,” McCaughey said.

“The ECHR is an independent court. We would have no faith whatsoever in any British investigation. We have fought long and hard for a full independent inquiry into what happened. We are hoping that the European courts will give us justice and the truth will eventually emerge.”

McCaughey said his brother had joined the IRA when he was 17 years old and was on active service when he was killed. “Martin was an IRA volunteer.

Our family have been involved in the republican movement for generations – we would never deny that and are proud of it. We just want to know what happened and why the British Army chose to kill Martin and Dessie rather than arrest them [that] night.”

The killings followed an upsurge in IRA attacks against the security forces in Armagh and east Tyrone. McCaughey had been wounded in a shoot-out with undercover soldiers at Cappagh, Co Tyrone, the previous March. He escaped across the border and recovered at a safe house.

He was subsequently expelled from Dungannon town council for failing to attend three consecutive meetings.

It is thought he failed to attend due to injuries sustained in the shoot-out.

Grew was a leading member of the Provisional IRA and had been involved in the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a leftist paramilitary group. He had been jailed three times.

Grew came from a republican family and was the second of them to be killed by the security forces. In 1982 his brother Seamus was shot dead by police in Co Armagh.

At the time of his death, Dessie Grew was wanted for questioning by the German police in connection with the murders of Maheshkumar Islania , an RAF corporal, and his six-month-old daughter Ruthie, who were killed at Wildenrath in 1989.

Fearghal Shiels, a solicitor with Madden & Finucane, who is acting for both families, said the British state had failed to hold a proper investigation into the deaths.

“The RUC officers who investigated the killings lacked the requisite degree of independence,” he said.

“The combination of the police investigation and the Director of Public Prosecutions’ refusal to prosecute, and the complete absence of any reason for that decision in circumstances where over 70 shots were fired without any shots returned, did not amount to an effective investigation in that it was not capable of identifying and punishing those responsible.

“Neither the RUC nor DPP investigations were open to public scrutiny.”