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British soldier sentenced to life

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The first British soldier to be convicted of murder while on duty in Northern Ireland has been sentenced to life in prison for the 1983 slaying of a Roman Catholic in west Belfast.

Pvt. Ian Thain, 19, looked shocked as the Belfast Crown Court announced the guilty verdict and life sentence Friday for the shooting of Thomas Reilly, 22, former road manager for the all-girl British pop group Bananarama.

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Reilly was shot once in the back as he ran away from a disturbance in west Belfast involving youths who had shouted abuse at a British army patrol in August 1983.

West Belfast is a mainly Catholic area where the outlawed Irish Republican Army has waged war on the British army since it arrived in the province 15 years ago.

Police Friday night were hunting for the murderers of an 18-year-old who died after being beaten with a baseball bat. He was found lying critically injured on a West Belfast street.

Police said it did not appear to be a sectarian attack but did not rule out the possibility of a paramilitary-style punishment.

The Thain sentence was unusual in that several other British soldiers have been convicted of murder in the province, but these were for criminal acts unconnected to their official duties.

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The Belfast judge said Thain had given no explanation for the shooting for a year afterward, then 'concocted' a story that he thought Reilly was armed and about to shoot. Reilly was unarmed.

The judge said he accepted that the victim had been drinking heavily and was involved in the disturbance Aug. 9, the anniversary of the now-suspended British policy of internment for suspected Republicans.

But he said he had found Thain 'deliberately untruthful' on the witness stand when it suited him.

Thain had been on duty in Northern Ireland only three months and a psychologist testified at his trial that he had been brooding about the death of a colleague blown up two months previously in west Belfast.

It was not clear where Thain would serve his sentence, because placing him in the Maze prison outside Belfast would put him with loyalist and Republican terrorists.

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