ABritish military operation targeted at preventing a planned car bomb attack in Gibraltar was intercepted by undercover members of the Special Airforce Services (SAS) on Sunday 6 March 1988. Three members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Sean Savage, Daniel McCann, and Mairéad Farrell, were killed on the forecourt of a petrol station during the controversial Operation Flavius.
Spanish police had tracked the trio from when they arrived in Malaga in preparation for an attack on governor's residence following information received from the British authorities.
McCann and Farrell were observed crossing the border from Spain into the British Overseas Territory at around 2.30pm. According to the official account of the operation, Savage entered Gibraltar undetected in a white Renault 5. He was later recognised by an MI5 officer while parking the car, which was treated as a suspected bomb.
The shootings led to accusations that the British government had conspired to murder the three terrorists, as they were subsequently found to be unarmed and the Renault contained no explosives. However, following further enquiries resulting from keys found on one of the terrorists, police discovered a Ford Escort packed with 64 kilos of explosives in a car park in Marbella.
The authorities claimed that, had the unit succeeded, the explosion would have caused considerable carnage and probably killed hundreds of tourists gathered for the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
A few months after the incident, a documentary called 'Death on the Rock' broadcast on British Television explored the possibility that the three IRA members had been unlawfully killed. A subsequent inquest into the deaths returned a verdict of lawful killing, although the European Court of Human Rights decided that the operation had been in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.