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Saturday, March 13, 1999 Published at 16:33 GMT

Soldier cleared of Northern Ireland murder

The stolen Astra was hit 19 times

Paratrooper Lee Clegg has been cleared of the murder of a Belfast teenager.

[ image: Lee Clegg: Denied murder in 1990]
Lee Clegg: Denied murder in 1990
Karen Reilly, 18, from west Belfast, was shot dead when Lance Corporal Clegg and other members of an army foot patrol opened fire on a stolen Vauxhall Astra car on 30 September 1990.

While clearing Clegg of the murder charge, the judge upheld an earlier trial's guilty verdict of attempting to wound the driver of the car.

The decision prompted an angry reaction from the nationalist community.

Sinn Fein immediately condemned the verdict as an insult to the family of Karen Reilly and a threat to the peace process.

A spokesman said: "We and the community we represent are infuriated by today's decision. It couldn't have come at a worse time, a time when people are working very hard to build and consolidate the peace process.

"This verdict is adding insult to injury to the family of Karen Reilly.

"Not only was Lee Clegg found guilty of murder then released after a few short years and returned to the army but now he has been fully acquitted despite the fact that the weight of evidence presented in the court clearly went against him."

The car carrying Ms Reilly was hit 19 times as it travelled along the Upper Glen Road in west Belfast.

LCpl Clegg, then a private, was originally convicted of Ms Reilly's murder in June 1993 and jailed for life.

At a retrial in Belfast on Thursday, he was cleared of the murder, but convicted of attempting to wound the 17-year-old driver, Martin Peake, who also died.

The original trial heard that the fourth and final bullet he fired entered the back of the car and killed her.

[ image: Martin Peake: Also died]
Martin Peake: Also died
This was ruled as "lethal force" and considered unjustified as the car was moving away from the patrol and no longer represented a threat.

By 1995 the soldier was free again after being released on licence to resume his army career at Catterick, North Yorkshire, sparking riots in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.

LCpl Clegg was promoted and is currently an assistant physical training instructor.

Despite appeals to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, the conviction stood until February last year, when the verdict was quashed.

His legal team was also successful in winning a retrial on the basis of new forensic evidence.

[ image: Riots followed prison release]
Riots followed prison release
It claimed the fourth bullet went into the side of the car and not the back.

The new trial eventually began in November 1998 and lasted 29 days.

It was again the prosecution case that the paratrooper had "no lawful excuse" for the four shots he fired.

He was also alleged to have exaggerated the terrorist threat on the night of the incident.

But LCpl Clegg continued to insist: "I fired at the car because it was a threat."

He also denied making up the existence of the security briefing warning of an increased terrorist threat.

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