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'Unfinished Business: State Killings and the Quest for Truth' by Bill Rolston

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Text: Bill Rolston ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following extracts have been contributed by permission of the author Bill Rolston. The views expressed in this book do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

book cover These extracts are taken from the book:
Unfinished Business:
State Killings and the Quest for Truth
by Bill Rolston, with Mairead Gilmartin (2000)
ISBN: 1 900960 09 5 (Paperback) 335pp

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These extracts are copyright Bill Rolston (2000) and are included on the CAIN site by permission of the author and publishers. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author, and the publishers,Beyond the Pale Publications. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

From the back cover:

One in ten of those killed during the last thirty years of conflict over the North of Ireland was killed by the state. Yet very few British army, RUC or Intelligence personnel were ever charged with murder, punished or disciplined for what they did. The killings were carried out with impunity and quickly forgotten.

But the relatives of the dead did not forget. How could they? In the hours and days after the killings, their loved ones and the circumstances of their deaths were transformed beyond recognition as state misinformation sources swung into action, often willingly aided by compliant media. Deliberate attacks by state forces became self-defence’; a child collecting milk became a ‘rioter’ and people offering themselves for arrest were 'triggering bombs’, or making sudden movements as if to shoot’. Adding insult to injury, the relatives themselves have been insulted, harassed and attacked by the police and army. The victims and their relatives became the guilty ones while the perpetrators were exonerated.

Getting rid of the lies and establishing the truth has been an uphill struggle. Against the odds, determined individuals and groups have campaigned for justice at every opportunity. There have been many setbacks but some spectacular successes. In recent years, with the peace process, the families of the dead have demanded recognition by victims’ commissions and organisations. Thanks to persistence and determination, their concerns are now part of the agenda.

In this book, people tell their stories of battling with the authorities to establish the truth about state killings. They describe how they took up the fight, often unwillingly and in circumstances of great pain and sadness. Here are the testimonies of ordinary people who became extraordinary champions of human rights, challenging the might of the state and sometimes succeeding.

For the majority, however, the fight goes on





Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972


Louis Leonard, 15 December 1972


The Dublin/Monaghan Bombings, 17 May 1974


Seamus Ludlow, 1 May 1976


Gary English, 19 April 1981


Carol Ann Kelly, 22 May 1981


Nora McCabe, 9 July 1981


Shoot to Kill: Gervaise McKerr, Sean Burns and Eugene Toman, 11 November 1982; Michael Tighe, 24 November 1982; Seamus Grew and Roddy Carroll, 12 December 1982


John Downes, 12 August 1984


Charles Breslin, Michael Devine and David Devine, 23 February 1985


Patrick Kelly, 8 May, 1987


Aidan McAnespie, 21 February 1988


Mairéad Farrell, Daniel McCann and Seán Savage, 6 March 1988


Pat Finucane, 12 February 1989


Seamus Duffy, 9 August 1989


Brian Robinson, 2 September 1989


Peter Thompson, John McNeill and Edward Hale, 13 January 1990


Fergal Caraher, 30 December 1990


Kevin McGovern, 29 September 1991


Peter McBride, 4 September 1992


Pearse Jordan, 25 November 1992


Diarmuid O’Neill, 23 September 1996


Robert Hamill, 8 May 1997


Raymond Murray


Clara Reilly


Denis Faul






It was business as usual in police room 619. (Peter Gabriel, ‘Biko’).

During the West Belfast Festival in August 1998, a campaign group called Relatives for Justice organised an event — 'Forgotten Victims' — for people who had lost friends and relatives at the hands of British state forces during the previous three decades of conflict over the North of Ireland. Over two hundred people attended the meeting and many spoke of their experiences — not only of the killing itself, but of what happened to them subsequently. They spoke of being ignored, marginalised, vilified and harassed by the same state forces which had killed their loved ones. For some, it was a difficult task to speak in public, even though the audience was sympathetic. One speaker, Cornelius Rooney, had lost his nine year old son Patrick on 15 August 1969. The RUC had driven up the Falls Road firing into Divis Flats. Patrick was hit in his own home by a heavy Browning machine-gun round fired indiscriminately from a Shoreland armoured car. Cornelius Rooney had never before spoken publicly of the events of that night 29 years before.

Like the rest of the audience I listened, close to tears, as he spoke. I recalled the words of Antje Krog, a South African poet and broadcaster, as she listened to the testimony of victims and survivors at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings in her country. ‘Over months we’ve realized what an immense price of pain each person must pay just to stammer out their own story at the Truth Commission. Each word is exhaled from the heart, each syllable vibrates with a lifetime of sorrow.’ And I remembered too one criticism that had been made of the TRC. The majority of those who spoke about state killings were women; the stories they told were of their husbands, fathers and sons. But their own stories went untold. Nowhere was it recorded adequately or acknowledged fully that they had survived, doubly victimised by the killing and by a regime intent on silencing them when they demanded justice. The most telling proof of their marginalisation was that sometimes their accounts to the TRC were carried in newspapers only as those of ‘the widow’ or ‘the mother’; not only were their own stories unimportant; they did not even have names.

Unlike the South African case, the venue at which Cornelius Rooney spoke was not a Truth Commission. It had not been set up formally as a result of the ongoing peace process. It was not chaired by a person of international standing, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. There were no state functionaries present to listen or to tell their own stories in the hope of amnesty. Above all, apart from a small amount of media coverage, there was no public acknowledgement that the meeting had even taken place. All of which could lead to dismissing the political importance of the meeting. Surely this was simply a case of relatives talking among themselves. It was a collective catharsis, an exercise in group therapy. It was indeed that, but it was also more. If ever there is a TRC for Ireland it will only be because these people told their stories when no one else wanted to listen. From that, they gained the political strength to insist that others listen, to demand a place in the debate about the future.

Throughout the conflict there have been groups such as Relatives for Justice which struggled to disclose the truth about state injustice and repression. The end of the conflict provided space for such campaigns to move up a gear, as it were. If the demands for truth and justice are to be met, then the message has to be carried beyond the audiences which are sympathetic, to the same state functionaries and institutions which have marginalised these people in the past. There are undoubtedly many in those institutions who are fearful of change, or more, who have something to hide and who would prefer if the relatives continued talking merely among themselves. From events like the ‘Forgotten Victims’ meeting, people can, by talking to each other, gain the strength and courage to take the message to others much less open or less sympathetic. As the example of South Africa’s TRC revealed, the sine qua non of truth and justice, is that the story of the most marginalised victims has to be officially acknowledged by society as legitimate.

Who killed whom?

Those killed by the state during thirty years of conflict over the North of Ireland are a relatively small proportion of all those who have died. Perhaps surprisingly, there is some disagreement concerning the exact number of people who were killed. This arises from the fact that there are different definitions used by various authors regarding what constitutes a conflict-related death as well as difficult decisions about inclusion and exclusion once the definitions have been set; for example, should a person who dies from a heart attack during an explosion be included? That said, the number of people who died as a result of the conflict is approximately three and a half thousand.

State forces accounted for just over 10 percent of all the deaths in the conflict — 357 people in all, according to Sutton. (McKitttrick et al give a slightly higher number, but given that their total for all deaths in the conflict is also higher, the percentage is identical.) The major perpetrator in relation to state killings was the British army, responsible for over 82 per cent of all such deaths (294 people in all). This compares to approximately 15 percent of state killings carried out by the next most active perpetrator, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (54 deaths). The UDR was responsible for eight deaths, the B-Specials one, and the RAF one.

The worst year for state killings was 1972, when 83 people died — 23 percent of all state killings. This was also the worst year for overall deaths; 472 people died, 14 percent of the total for the entire conflict. In the three years 1971-1973, there were 160 state killings, 45 percent of the total for such deaths. In the same period there were 894 deaths overall, 27 percent of all the deaths in the conflict. Thus it is clear that state killings figured largely in the early days of the conflict. Ten of the 16 deaths (62.5 percent) which occurred in 1969 were carried out by state forces: seven by the RUC, one by the B-Specials, and two by the British army (compared to two killings by republicans and four by loyalists). In fact, there were 62 deaths attributable to state forces before the most-publicised instance of state killing, Bloody Sunday, occurred in January 1972.

There were no state killings in the following years: 1993, 1995, 1997, 1998 and 1999. At the same time, it is clear that state killings did not end with the declaration of ceasefires in late 1994. Dermot McShane was crushed by a British army vehicle during disturbances in Derry on 13 July 1996 and Diarmuid O’Neill was shot dead by Metropolitan Police in London on 23 September 1996.

Civilian deaths constitute the largest category of victims of state killings, over 50 percent of all such deaths. One such civilian was a robber armed with a sawn-off shotgun. Four other robbers carried imitation firearms. The remaining civilian victims, 189 in total, were unarmed. The vast majority — 86 percent — of civilian victims of state killings were Catholic. The next largest category of victims is that of republican military activists, approximately 37 percent of all state killings. Remarkably few loyalist military activists became the victims of state killings, only 4 percent in all. All but two of the state killings of loyalists occurred before 1975.

If it is presumed as a shorthand calculation that republican activists were likely to have been Catholic while loyalist activists were likely to have been Protestant, it follows that the Catholic or nationalist community experienced the overwhelming bulk of killing by state forces; 88 percent of victims of state killings were from the nationalist community.

Deaths resulting from collusion between state forces and loyalist paramilitary groups are not included in the above figures. To do so would be to add at least the same number of deaths again. Collusion has been a factor in loyalist killings since early in the conflict, but reached a peak in the early 1990s. As Arthur Fegan and Raymond Murray documented, between March 1990 and September 1994, loyalists killed 185 people. Of these deaths, 168 (91 percent) were sectarian or political in nature, and in 103 cases (56 percent of all the loyalist killings in the period) there is evidence of some form of collusion.

Categorising State Killings

It is possible to categorise deaths from state killings in a number of different ways. In addition to the state agency involved in the killing and the method of killing used — plastic bullet, gun shot, etc. — the deaths could be categorised in relation to the geographical area in which they occurred. The Cost of the Troubles Study (Fay et al.) opts for a geographical break-down. Although it does not consider state killings per se, it provides some interesting information. The patterns of death are markedly different in the five areas selected: West Belfast, North Belfast, Derry, Newry/South Armagh and ‘Mid-Ulster’. In all but one of the areas, the majority of killings resulted from republican action; only North Belfast was different, where loyalists were the main perpetrators. In Newry/South Armagh loyalists and the British army accounted for almost the same proportion of deaths (6 per cent and 5 per cent respectively), while in Derry loyalists were responsible for 8 per cent of the deaths and the British army for 21 per cent.

Ní Aoláin does focus on state killings and uses a chronological approach to categorise these killings. She groups them into three broad chronological periods based on the different strategies used by the state and the consequences in terms of the number and form of state killings.

Phase 1, ‘militarisation’, is from 1969 to 1974. During this period of street confrontations and escalating conflict, the British anny was responsible for 90 percent of the 188 state killings. Phase 2, 1975 to 1980, is the period of ‘normalisation’, when the number of state killings dropped dramatically to 54. The range of state agents responsible for the deaths widened, with the uniformed British army responsible for 65 percent of the deaths, the SAS and 14th Intelligence Company 29 per cent, and the RUC 9 per cent.

In phase 3, ‘counter-insurgency’, from 1981 to 1994, tactics and results changed again. At the beginning of the period the RUC was convinced that it could take on a more robust counter-insurgency role. But after their brief spate of killing in North Armagh in 1982, regarded by British Intelligence as amateur and counterproductive, the British army was given primacy in counter-insurgency operations. The emphasis was on specialist units killing (rather than arresting) paramilitary members (in particular republicans). Although 51 percent of those killed were civilians, there were also 150 paramilitary deaths, 80 percent of whom were republican. What Ni Aoláin terms ‘set piece’ operations — stake-outs and ambushes by undercover British soldiers — came to account for 40 percent of all the state killings in this period. Throughout all three periods, she concludes, the average victim of state killing was male, Catholic and aged 18 to 25.

One further method of categorisation can be considered — organising the deaths by the nature of the incident. On this basis, six categories of state involvement in killing can be identified. An example drawn from the stories in this book is provided for each category, as follows:

  • Planned shoot-to-kill operation; for example, the killing of Mairead Farrell and her companions in Gibraltar.
  • Excessive use of force in a public order situation; for example, the killing of John Downes.
  • Individual action by an armed member of the state forces, whether out of revenge, loss of temper, bravado, the result of an altercation, or a ‘mistake’; for example, the killing of Peter McBride.
  • Collusion with loyalists in advance of the death; for example, the killing of Pat Finucane.
  • Actions by loyalists acting alone, but with security force cover-up after the event; for example, the killing of Seamus Ludlow.
  • Other reasons, including dereliction of duty; for example, the killing of Robert Hamill.

It is sometimes difficult to allocate specific instances of state killing to each of these categories; there is frequently a question over, for example, the intention of the state forces involved. Did they go out to kill, or was it an arrest operation which ‘went wrong’?

None of the above methods of categorisation is used in the presentation of the stories in this book. The incidents of state killing examined are simply presented in chronological order. Despite the simplicity of that organising device, the significance of different strategies employed by the state in various periods is often revealed; for example, the three accounts of deaths from plastic bullets occur in three out of four consecutive chapters on the early 1980s. Arranging the accounts chronologically also underlines two important points. First, state killings went on throughout the whole of the conflict, and were not confined to the high-profile incidents such as Bloody Sunday, or shoot-to-kill in North Armagh, and Gibraltar. Secondly, in one important sense, any form of categorisation can help to conceal an important fact: as the stories which follow show, no matter the period, the perpetrator, the method of killing, the status of the victim, etc., the post-killing experience of relatives of those killed by state forces is practically identical.

The relatives’ stories

Those who have campaigned over state killings are the focus of this book. For the most part they are not professionals, involved because of their jobs in legal or human rights organisations, but ordinary people, recruited by circumstances into campaigns for which they would never have willingly volunteered. They have been dragged into human rights activism by what was done to their relatives and in the process have displayed tenacity, skill and determination in pursuit of truth and justice.

The book looks at examples of the full range of victims of state killing — from student Kevin McGovern on his way to a disco with a can of beer in his hand and schoolgirl Carol Ann Kelly returning from a shop with a pint of milk, to Mairead Farrell preparing for a bombing mission in Gibraltar, and Patrick Kelly attacking what he believed to be an empty RUC barracks. It would be easy to focus on the former — the ‘innocent’ — victims and leave out the latter as somehow fouling the humanitarian pitch. I have not done so. All were subjected to excessive or unnecessary force by a state which has signed up to international protocols relating to the use of appropriate levels of force. Moreover, in media representations, official accounts and unfortunately also in popular memory there is often little distinction made between the various victims of state killing. After all, Peter McBride ‘had a coffee jar bomb’, and Kevin McGovern ‘took up the standard aiming stance for a pistol/revolver’. Such justifications are not totally removed from those articulated in relation to the ‘less innocent’ victims: Gervaise McKerr ‘crashed through a police roadblock’; Pearse Jordan ‘was transporting guns and ammunition in a car’. Not one of these widely disseminated ‘facts’ stood up under the weight of careful scrutiny.

Forgotten victims

In retrospect, it is amazing how little attention was paid to the concerns of victims for much of the duration of the conflict. But as the conflict came to an end, there was a flurry of recognition. The Good Friday Agreement asserted that ‘it is essential to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation’. Prior to the Agreement, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, former head of the Northern Ireland civil service, had already been given the task ‘to look at possible ways to recognise the pain and suffering felt by victims of violence’. His Report in October 1997 made 20 recommendations, and led to the security Minister, Adam Ingram, being given the added responsibility of looking to the needs of victims. His Victims’ Liaison Unit launched a number of schemes — many of them financial — to enable victims and dependants to access education, business start-up, etc..

The apparent centrality of the issue of victims was soon a very public symbol of the change of political atmosphere. Yet there were problems. The debate on victims has been very much state-led. And although there was an attempt to engage the views of victims themselves, the suspicion soon emerged that that engagement was on the state’s own terms. For example, Bloomfield met with a wide range of victims’ groups, including those representing people injured or killed by state forces. Part of his brief was to represent the concerns of members of the security forces who had been killed and injured and he does so frequently and sensitively in his Report. He also summarises considerately the views of other categories of victims, for example, unionist families living near the border who regard themselves as victims of a republican campaign of ethnic cleansing. He specifically refers to them: ‘Those affected have made representations to Government for some form of special help. I would hope that those representations are given sympathetic consideration’. But compare this to the case of victims of state killings; he notes the scepticism of such groups regarding his ability to represent their concerns adequately to government. He insists he has not been given ‘a steer’ by the government and is capable of so doing. But he adds, coolly and almost dismissively, that their views about ‘state terrorism’ ‘are no doubt already well known to Government, but I promised to convey in this report their firm view that revelation of the full truth of controversial events was more important for the victims they represented than any other consideration. This I now do.’

This differential treatment of victims has its roots in the three decades of the war itself. It was apparent in a number of ways, not least the way in which victims were described. Countless reports in the media stressed that the victim was ‘innocent’, that ‘he only had time for his family’, that ‘she was never interested in politics’, that ‘they were just going about their daily work’ when killed. There was in effect the social construction of the ideal victim. The two key elements in that construct were ‘innocence’ and ‘passivity’.

Of course, the corollary of this is that there are in fact two classes of victims, deserving and undeserving. The latter are presumed to be less than innocent, or worse, downright culpable, implicated in their own suffering. Thus, at the top of the hierarchy of victims were those who were ‘innocent’ — usually women and children and usually killed as a result of paramilitary violence. At the bottom were members of those same paramilitary groups killed by state forces; they attracted little widespread sympathy outside the communities where those groups drew support.

Raising the issue of state killings while the war raged was thus a difficult task because of a number of factors. First was the unquestioned belief that the state does not act as a terrorist, does not kill without reason or justification. Second was the presumption that ‘there is no smoke without fire’, that for all the protestations of innocence these victims had been somehow less than angelic. Third was the dissemination of these deep prejudices and presumptions by powerful institutions, especially the media. Fourth and finally was the deliberate misinformation and manipulation of the media by state forces, ensuring that a partial or downright false story was the first in the public domain and therefore the most likely to be believed and remembered.

Such was the power of this ideology that it was possible in the cases of state violence to override even the most obvious criterion of ‘innocence’. Thus, it was usually presumed and often stated in official accounts that children killed by plastic bullets were involved in, or at least caught up in riots — the implication being that there was an element of contributory negligence involved.

Victims of state killings were often forgotten and ignored while the war was raging. To draw attention to them was to risk being labelled as ‘soft on terrorism’. Criticising the state’s human rights record was usually condemned on the grounds that it ‘played into the hands of the terrorists’. It was even worse for relatives who dared to demand disclosure or prosecutions. To agitate was to draw down the wrath of the state forces on themselves, to become as marginalised and victimised as those for whom they fought. The vilification of the dead was echoed in the treatment of those who sought truth and justice. The fact that there were risks involved was undoubtedly one reason that agitation was less than might have been expected. Shock, powerlessness, marginalisation, harassment and fear were powerful deterrents. That powerlessness registered in different ways with different categories of victims. But it had a specific resonance in the case of relatives of members of paramilitary groups killed by state forces. Even if they believed that their relatives could have been arrested rather than killed, it was often difficult to find a sympathetic hearing for that view outside their own community, and sometimes even within.

In short, within the general ignorance and lack of official acknowledgement of victims in the past, the case of victims of state violence was even worse. They were not merely ignored, but there was a determination to exclude them and those who raised their plight from the debate. Despite those odds, there were brave individuals who fought to force their way into the debate, who worked often for years to ensure that their items were included on the agenda. There were campaigns, and even some successes, in the midst of the war itself. More often there was failure, frustration, dashed hopes and a gnawing sense of unfinished business.

When wars end is the time to turn to that business. Old campaigns were given new momentum, and new groups emerged; sometimes they dealt with recent killings, but more often with killings which had occurred years, even decades before. Peace not only provides the space for such politics without fear of reprisal; it also enables a real shift in consciousness. This is because one other reason for inaction in the past, apart from fear, was that the war had become part of the normality of people’s lives. It was not so much that death and suffering were accepted, but that there seemed no alternative. Because the war was ongoing, all too often yesterday’s victim became yesterday’s news as the news of today’s victims emerged. With peace this inertia was questioned — and rejected.

Peace creates the political space to raise the case of ‘forgotten victims’ and thereby win a place in the public debate for the first time. This is no easy task; the articulation of the needs and demands of victims of state violence has been a source of unease in a situation where the issue of victims has become increasingly colonised by the language of social work, psychology and counselling. Despite that, there has been a determination to argue for inclusion at every turn. Campaigning groups have organised conferences and meetings on the issue of state killings. They have demanded to be heard in the new venues and institutions resulting from the Good Friday Agreement, such as the Touchstone Group, set up to advise the Minister for victims. If the victims of state killings are no longer as invisible as they once were, it is not because of the largesse of the state but because of the persistence of campaign groups.

Focusing on state killings

It might be argued that it is elitist, perhaps even sectarian to focus only on state killings. Henry McDonald, Observer correspondent, has been a vocal proponent of such a criticism. For example, referring to the loyalist bombing of Dublin and Monaghan in 1974, and the Irish government’s decision to hold an inquiry, he asks: ‘Why was this atrocity any different to Bloody Friday, Enniskillen and Claudy?’, all examples of mass killing by IRA bombs. He concludes: ‘Either we draw a line under the past or we open up everything for examination’ (Observer 8 August 1999).

Arguably, the same criticism can be levelled directly at this book. There are after all other victims’ groups, for example: Disabled Police Officers Association, Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR), Londonderry Victim Support, Northern Ireland Terrorist Victims Together, and Homes United by Ruthless Terror (HURT). In addition, there are many other groups working with victims, such as: An Crann/the Tree, Cost of the Troubles Study, Families Against Intimidation and Terror (FAIT), Kairos, Survivors of Trauma, WAVE, Victim Support Northern Ireland, and South Down Action for Healing Wounds. Why leave out their stories?

There is nothing to prevent any victims’ group telling their stories. Moreover, there is every reason to expect that the telling of those stories is a necessary part of dealing with the past. My focus is not on all victims, but solely on those killed by the state. There are two main reasons for this: first, they are qualitatively different from other killings because they have been carried out by an institution which, uniquely, claims to protect all citizens; and second, these victims have often been forgotten in the past, while those who have sought to keep the memory alive have been marginalised by the state and its institutions. None of this is to insinuate that the suffering of other victims and their relatives is necessarily any less than that of those killed by the state, even if in recent years some groups have had a more sympathetic hearing.

At the core of this issue is the question of equivalence. What truth is there about IRA massacres like Enniskillen and La Mon which needs to be uncovered and revealed? As a result of police investigations, court cases, etc. everything that can be known is known, except in some cases the names of the actual perpetrators. But there is no question of excessive force by a democratic state, no insinuation of state support or cover-up, no police or army harassment of those who demand justice in these cases. Moreover, in cases of killings by republicans it has been the presumption of the state, the media and large sections of public opinion that the victim is innocent, even if a uniformed and armed member of the security forces. Conversely, the victims of state violence have usually been presumed to be less than innocent, even if they were civilians. The state had the power to carry out these killings with impunity, to block, legally and otherwise, any investigation, and to vilify and harass those who opposed its actions. To focus on these cases is to counterbalance the exclusion of such cases in the past.

It should not be surprising that most of those interviewed are nationalist or republican, given that the vast majority of victims of state killings have been from that community. Moreover, given their relationship to the state, nationalists and republicans have been the most likely to agitate over the issue of state killings, not least because their communities have suffered disproportionately. Few loyalists were killed by state forces, and very few campaigns emerged around those killings. One such campaign — over the death of Brian Robinson — is considered in this book.

There are more such stories which have not been told here — for example, that of joyriders Karen Reilly and Martin Peake, shot dead by British paratroopers on 30 September 1990, and the saga of the imprisonment, release and legal vindication of Paratrooper Lee Clegg. Some long-running campaigns have not been considered, for example, that of Kathleen Stewart over the death of her son Brian by plastic bullet on 10 October 1976; Kathleen Stewart died in 1999 after a long illness and an even longer campaign for the truth. And new campaigns gather momentum each day, such as that over the murder of republican Sam Marshall in Portadown on 7 March 1990; although carried out by loyalists, there is powerful evidence of the involvement of state forces in his death. But time, space and on occasions emotional exhaustion have conspired to ensure that some stories have been left out.

The structure of this book

This book is built around the stories of 23 instances of state involvement in killings associated with the conflict over the North of Ireland. The stories are told by people — in most cases relatives — who have campaigned over these killings. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, after which they were carefully edited. The final version of each story was returned to the person interviewed for approval; not a word of their story is reproduced here without their agreement.

In addition, each story has an introduction. As much information about the case as currently exists in the public domain is summarised in order to put each instance of state killing in context.

Three accounts stand out from the others in that they are not based on individual incidents of state killing. Raymond Murray, Denis Faul and Clara Reilly are seasoned campaigners who have devoted years of effort to documenting and highlighting cases of state abuse and killing.

Finally, there is one solicitor whose name looms large in a number of the stories in this book — Pat Finucane. Had he lived, he would have been approached for an interview.

The basis of this book is that these stories are important, not just at the level of pain and suffering — a fact that is equally true of many other stories which could be told — but because they starkly exemplify a number of factors about the past. They reveal how far the state degraded the ideal of human rights over three decades and how some people struggled to uphold that ideal in the most hostile of environments. The lesson is a timely and essential one: that part of the unfinished business we as a society face is the task of finding ways to ensure that this past culture of the abuse of human rights will never again be repeated.

Publication Contents


11 November 1982

24 November 1982

12 December 1982

All victims of RUC shoot-to-kill operations

Towards the end of 1982, a number of killings by the RUC in north Armagh led to a long-running and explosive dispute over the issue of shoot-to-kill. On the evening of 11 November, 1982, three IRA members — Eugene Toman (aged 21), Sean Burns (21) and Gervaise McKerr (31 ) — were shot dead at Tullygally East Road, near Lurgan. Almost two weeks later, on 24 November, Michael Tighe (aged 17) was shot dead in a hay shed on Ballynerry Road North, Lurgan. He was not involved in any paramilitary organisation, although his companion, Martin McCauley (19), seriously wounded in the same incident, was later charged. Finally, on 12 December 1982, two INLA members — Seamus Grew (aged 30) and Roddy Carroll (21) — were shot dead at Mullacreevie Park, Armagh. All the killings were the work of the RUC, specifically of a specially trained undercover unit known as the Headquarters Mobile Support Unit (HMSU). The legal and political repercussions of the three incidents were to reverberate for the next 12 years.

On 5 October 1983, the Armagh Coroner Gerry Curran opened and immediately suspended the inquest into the deaths of the six men because of the pending trials of four RUC men and of Martin McCauley. ‘All evidence and statements of persons present when the deaths took place would have to be excluded at such inquests if the subsequent trial of the persons charged would be prejudiced by the publication of evidence.’

The first such trial to occur was that of RUC Constable John Robinson, a former British soldier. He was charged with the murder of Seamus Grew. Robinson’s defence was that Grew and Carroll were under surveillance on the day of the incident because it was believed that they were about to ferry INLA chief Dominic McGlinchey into the North. A road block had been set up to intercept Grew’s car, but it had crashed through the road block. Robinson claimed that he then went to Mullacreevie Park, where Grew lived, where he spotted the car and its occupants Robinson said he recognised Grew and waved his policeman’s cap out of the window to identify himself to the INLA men. He claimed that he then emerged from his car, put on the RUC cap and approached Grew’s car. As he did so, the passenger door opened and there was a loud bang from inside the car. He stated that he had shouted a warning but that Grew’s car began to reverse. At this point he opened fire. ‘I fired to kill because I believed they were trying to kill me.’

In point of fact, not only was Dominic McGlinchey not in the car, but Grew and Carroll were unarmed. The prosecution case was that Robinson first shot Carroll from a distance of six to ten feet, emptying the magazine of his Smith and Wesson pistol in the process. He had time to reload, walk around the front of the car and then shoot Grew from a distance of 30 to 35 inches as Grew emerged from the passenger side of the car. This, said the prosecution, was incompatible with Robinson’s claim that he believed that his life was in danger. ‘At such a range, it must have been simple for the accused to decide whether the type of force needed to deal with the situation that had arisen would require the shooting of Carroll.’ And as regards Grew:

‘It is inescapable that this was a deliberate shooting carried out in circumstances which must have made it clear that the deceased was not using a weapon’.

On the other hand, the prosecution seems to have been less hostile to Robinson than these statements imply. As it emerged during the trial, they had shown him crucial forensic evidence and had given him the opportunity to change his statement. In addition, some of what they had to say would not have been out of place coming from defence lawyers:

It is expected that they are facing a potential armed enemy whose whole aim and object is to shoot police officers when the opportunity presents itself. Any police officer might have to take a split-second decision on which his life depends.

Also during the trial it emerged that the original RUC account of the killing was wrong on a number of significant points. It was revealed that an RUC Special Branch inspector had been following Grew and Carroll all that day, in the Republic as well as the North. No contact with Dominic McGlinchey was made, but he continued to follow them as they approached the HMSU road block set up to intercept them. However, there was a collision between vehicles driven by the British army and HMSU at the road block. In the confusion after the collision, the car containing Grew and Carroll drove through undetected. The Special Branch inspector following stopped and picked up one of the armed HMSU members, Robinson, and continued in pursuit of the INLA car. The other members of the WASU patrol meanwhile made a bogus radio call to the effect that the INLA car had crashed through a police road block. After the shooting of Grew and Carroll, the Special Branch inspector immediately left the scene and his presence was bidden from detectives investigating the incident, a fact revealed for the first time at the trial. In addition, Robinson revealed that, immediately after the shooting, he was debriefed by the RUC Special Branch who had concocted some elements of his story and suppressed others. He was then ordered under the Official Secrets Act to present the doctored version of events to investigating detectives.

On 3 April 1984, Constable John Robinson was cleared of the charge of murder. The RUC announced that he was free to return to normal duties.

Later that same year, three RUC men — Sergeant William Montgomery, and Constables David Brannigan and Frederick Robinson — were charged with the murder of Eugene Toman. The prosecution accepted the RUC version of events, that the car containing the three IRA members had crashed through a police roadblock, after which the RUC opened fire. However, the case against the RUC men was that Toman was alive when the car finally came to a stop and that he was shot while getting out of or fully out of the car. This was supported by forensic evidence from State Pathologist Professor Thomas Marshall to the effect that Toman had been shot in the back.

The RUC men’s defence was that they were trailing the IRA men that night on the grounds of intelligence that they were en route to kill a member of the security forces in Portadown. In addition, the RUC suspected Toman and Burns of having killed three RUC members — Sean Quinn, Alan McCloy and Paul Hamilton — in an IRA landmine explosion at Oxford Island, near Lurgan, on 27 October 1982. The HMSU, it was claimed, had set up a road block through which the IRA car had broken, endangering the life of an RUC man. Consequently, the HMSU members opened fire. One bullet, they said, caused a flash when it struck the metal of the car, leading them to believe that they themselves were under fire. So they continued firing until all three IRA men were dead.

The shooting of Toman and the others was therefore justifiable; these were dangerous men on a murder mission; there was no time for niceties. As Deputy Chief Constable Michael McAtamney testified, the three defendants were part of a special unit given special training for undercover operations. As such, they worked on the principle that ‘if you decide to fire, you shoot to take out your assailant’ — Permanently’, he added when asked to elaborate. In the past, said McAtamney, RUC men had hesitated in such situations and suffered the consequences. No hesitation was possible. The judge agreed; it would be unrealistic to ask the RUC to hesitate before firing at a dangerous suspect because they might face a possible murder charge.

As in the previous trial of Constable John Robinson, it emerged during this trial that the Official Secrets Act had been invoked. Specifically, the three defendants did not initially reveal that they were operating undercover when questioned by detectives.

On 5 June 1984, Lord Justice Gibson found the three RUC men not guilty. He launched a scathing attack on the DPP for bringing the case on the basis of such ‘tenuous evidence’. The defendants knew of the suspicion that the three were on their way to commit murder, of the probability that they were armed (although they were not in fact) and that ‘both were dangerous terrorists who had let it be known that they would not be arrested alive’. He added: ‘There never was the slimmest chance that the Crown could have hoped to secure a conviction’. All that the trial had done, in his view, was to expose three members of an undercover police unit unnecessarily.

Gibson went on to commend the three RUC men:

I wish to make it clear that, having heard the entire Crown case, I regard each of the accused as absolutely blameless in this matter. That finding should be put on their record along with my own commendation as to their courage and determination for bringing the three deceased men to justice, in this case, to the final court of justice.

As Malachy Toman, brother of Eugene, later stated, ‘He virtually said that my brother and his friends were better in the graveyard than in jail’. But not everyone was as unhappy with the verdict. Alan Wright of the Police Federation said that it proved that when the police were involved in such incidents there was not a shoot-to-kill policy, but rather a shoot-to-live policy.

One of the three acquitted RUC men later committed suicide. The judge, Maurice Gibson, and his wife Cecily were killed in an IRA landmine explosion near the border on 25 April 1987.

No one was charged with murder in relation to the remaining shoot-to-kill incident, the killing of Michael Tighe. However Martin McCauley was charged with possession of weapons. The testimony of HMSU officers at his trial was that they had been on routine patrol and had seen a man with a gun at the hay shed. They then heard muffled voices from inside the hay shed, as well as the sound of weapons being cocked. They ordered the people inside to surrender but got no reply. Instead, they saw McCauley pointing a rifle at them and they opened fire in response. Further shots were fired at Tighe who appeared a few seconds later, also pointing a rifle at them. Eventually McCauley was dragged out of the hay shed, close to death, and the body of Tighe was discovered inside. Three old Mauser rifles were found, but no ammunition.

Under cross-examination, the HMSU personnel admitted they had lied about the nature of their patrol; they had not been on routine patrol, nor was the sighting of the supposed gunman what drew them to the hay shed. The rest of their story, they insisted, was correct. They had, they said, been ordered to lie by Special Branch under the Official Secrets Act.

Martin McCauley’s defence presented a markedly different account of what happened. He said that he and Tighe had climbed in an open window in the hay shed out of curiosity and had seen the rifles. Without warning they were shot at and Michael Tighe died instantly. Only then was there an order to come out. When McCauley tried to do so, he was hit. Unable to move and losing a lot of blood, he was dragged from the barn.

On 15 February 1985, Martin McCauley was found guilty of possession of the weapons and given a suspended sentence of two years.

After the first of these trials — that of Constable John Robinson — official disquiet about the revelations of cross-border excursions by the HMSU and of Special Branch doctoring the evidence led to the decision to appoint a senior police officer from outside the North to investigate the six shoot-to-kill deaths. John Stalker, Deputy Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police, took on the task. He quickly discovered that what he termed ‘the common denominator’ in all three incidents, which had not emerged properly during any of the trials, was their connection to the 1982 IRA explosion at Oxford Island in which three RUC men had died. Stalker discovered that an explosives dump had been under police surveillance; despite that, the IRA had managed to remove explosives undetected which were used in the bomb which killed the RUC men. Afterwards, an informant gave names to the RUC of the people allegedly responsible for the bomb attack. Within six weeks of that information being delivered, three of those named — Toman, Burns and McKerr — were dead and one, McCauley, was injured. It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the RUC were out to even the score.

Even more dramatically, Stalker discovered that, unknown to the HMSU personnel, MIS had placed a bugging device inside the hay shed where Tighe and McCauley had been shot and had recorded the encounter between the HMSU and the two victims of their shooting. Stalker sought to gain access to this tape, but was repeatedly blocked by Chief Constable John Hermon.

In fact, from the start Stalker faced opposition, in particular from the RUC Chief Constable and Special Branch. Hermon made it clear that he saw Stalker’s investigation as a relatively low key affair rather than the full-bodied one envisaged by Stalker himself. In addition, Stalker recounts a remarkably bizarre incident during his first meeting with Hermon when the Chief Constable produced Stalker’s family tree drawn out on a flattened out cigarette packet. The family tree did not chart his father’s branch, Protestants from Liverpool, but only his mother’s side, Catholics from the Republic. It traced the family back to 1900, mentioning cousins Stalker himself had never even heard of!

By September 1985, Stalker had completed his investigations of the killing of Grew, Carroll, McKerr, Toman and Burns, but was unable to finish that of Tighe because of failure to access the MIS tape. He thus produced an interim report and delivered it to the DPP. He concluded that, in relation to the three shoot-to-kill incidents, senior RUC officers had concocted lies and ordered subordinates to repeat them in court. There was, said Stalker, clear evidence of an RUC attempt to pervert the course of justice. He concluded that Grew, Carroll, McKerr, Burns, Toman, and Tighe had all been killed unlawfully and that in one case at least that of Michael Tighe — there were grounds for charges of conspiracy to murder.

Stalker concluded:

The Special Branch targeted the suspected terrorists, they briefed the officers, and after the shootings they removed the men, cars and guns for a private de-briefing before CID officers were allowed access to these crucial matters. They provided the cover stories, and they decided at what point the CID were to be allowed to commence the official investigation of what occurred. The Special Branch interpreted the information and decided what was, or was not, evidence; they attached labels — whether a man was ‘wanted’ for an offence, for instance or whether he was an ‘on-the-run terrorist’. I have never experienced, nor had any of my team, such an influence over an entire police force by one small section.

And as for the RUC investigation of the six deaths:

The files were little more than a collection of statements, apparently prepared for a coroner’s inquiry. They bore no resemblance to my idea of a murder prosecution file. Even on the most cursory of readings I could see why the prosecutions [of the four RUC men] had failed.

Apart from accessing the MI5 tape, Stalker had one final outstanding task: to formally interview the Chief Constable, the Deputy Chief Constable and at least one Assistant Chief Constable of the RUC because he had grounds to believe that one or more had committed criminal offences in relation to the shoot-to-kill deaths. The first of these formal interviews was arranged with John Hermon for 2 June 1985. On 29 May, Stalker was informed that he was himself under investigation, possibly facing disciplinary charges in relation to his alleged association with criminals in Manchester. His name was linked to that of Manchester businessman Kevin Taylor who was also being investigated. Stalker was removed from the shoot-to-kill investigation and the policeman in charge of investigating him — Colin Sampson, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire — was also put in charge of completing what had started out as the Stalker inquiry. Sampson completed his report in March 1987. It is unlikely that it added anything of substance to Stalker’s interim report.

By that time, the Police Committee in Manchester had dismissed all allegations against Stalker and reinstated him as Deputy Chief Constable. His reputation severely dented, Stalker left the police in March 1987. Kevin Taylor was charged with fraud. In January 1990, after a 16-week trial, the prosecution withdrew the case and advised the judge to ask the jury to acquit Taylor, which they did. Taylor’s businesses, in the meantime, had collapsed.

In 1988 Attorney General Patrick Mayhew stated that there would be no further prosecutions of any police or MIS officers on the grounds of national security.

However, in an apparent attempt to dispel continuing public disquiet over the matter of shoot-to-kill, Secretary of State Tom King announced a further two inquiries in February 1988. The first, by the Northern Ireland Police Authority, examined whether there was need for disciplinary charges against any of the top ranks of the RUC. The second, under Charles Kelly, Chief Constable of Staffordshire, looked at possible disciplinary charges against those of the rank of chief superintendent and below. In March 1989, Kelly recommended disciplinary proceedings against 20 junior RUC officers. One officer was cautioned, charges against another were dropped, and in 18 cases, officers were reprimanded. It is believed that all the charges related to obstructing Stalker in his investigation.

Because of the trials of RUC men which had already taken place in relation to two of the incidents, normal practice would have been that no subsequent inquest would occur. Inquests in Northern Ireland are unable to do more than establish the basic facts of death, facts which, it is claimed, would already have been revealed as a result of trials. But because of new evidence turned up by the Stalker and Sampson inquiries, a decision to reopen the suspended inquest was taken by Coroner James Elliot in 1988. One of Elliot’s first decisions was to rule that the unsworn written statements of the RUC personnel involved in the killings were admissible without the RUC men having to attend the inquest or be subjected to cross-examination. This was challenged by Eleanor McKerr, widow of Gervaise. The Coroner refused to change his mind, so Eleanor McKerr and her legal counsel withdrew from the inquest. The inquest continued, with two police witnesses giving evidence from behind screens; both had been involved in command and briefing in relation to the incidents, but not in the actual killing. The families of Sean Bums and Eugene Toman withdrew from the inquest at this point, objecting to the admission of hearsay evidence which was designed to protect the police and discredit the deceased. Other policemen then gave evidence, including two who had accompanied the three unnamed officers who had carried out the actual killing, but were not present in court. Solicitor Pat Finucane, acting for Eleanor McKerr, returned asking for an adjournment on the grounds that leave for a judicial review had been granted by the High Court in Belfast. The Coroner refused to adjourn on those grounds, but had to halt -proceedings anyhow in order to prepare for the judicial review.

In the High Court in Belfast, Lord Justice Carswell eventually ruled that Elliot’s decision to allow the RUC statements was valid, but that he was wrong not to have granted an adjournment pending the judicial review. Eleanor McKerr appealed Carswell’s judgement on the grounds that the failure of the coroner’s court to compel a person who had caused a death to attend the inquest was ultra vires, i.e. this rule of the coroner’s court clearly contradicted a principle of statutory law. The appeal was upheld, thus apparently requiring the RUC men to attend the inquest and to testify in person. However, the government in turn appealed this decision to the House of Lords where, in March 1990, the judgement was reversed; the Coroner’s original ruling was upheld, that the RUC men were not compellable witnesses.

A year before, on 12 February 1989, Eleanor McKerr’s lawyer, Pat Finucane was murdered by loyalists in Belfast.

These and other legal wranglings rumbled on for years, holding up not just the inquests of the six victims from north Armagh, but also a number of other inquests in relation to state killings where similar legal arguments were raging.

Eventually, the shoot-to-kill inquest reopened on 5 May 1992. Coroner James Leckey stated in his opening remarks that he had read the Stalker and Sampson reports. Despite the fact that parts had been deleted in the version he was given as a result of a Public Interest Immunity Certificate issued originally in November 1988, Leckey said that the statements taken by the Stalker inquiry were valuable in relation to the inquest. Because of their potential to present a fuller account of the incidents, the Coroner concluded that holding an inquest would be in the public interest. ‘The statements they took have been made available to me and the public has a proper interest in knowing whether any further evidence came to light. For that reason and that reason alone, I am holding Inquests.’

Eleanor McKerr sought another judicial review in June 1992, objecting to the selection of the inquest jury. The mechanism for selection involved a computer choosing several thousand names at random, from which 20 people were then chosen and called to attend the inquest. However, the method of choosing the final 20 was not made clear. Moreover, the first 11 to arrive constituted the jury; no challenge of jurors by lawyers representing the families was possible. The eligibility of jurors was not checked. In addition, there was no check that the same anonymous jurors turned up each day.

The inquest reopened for the last time in 1994. Members of the Greater Manchester Police Inquiry team stated that they could not confidently give evidence without re-examining the Stalker reports or their own working papers from the time. The latter were by this point in the hands of the RUC. However, the potential Manchester police witnesses were refused access to both their own working papers and the Stalker report by the RUC.

In addition, Coroner Leckey had served writs on the Chief Constable of the RUC to produce the Stalker report. The RUC refused to comply and sought a judicial review of the Coroner’s demand. On 11 July 1994, Justice Nicholson judged that the RUC did not have to comply with the writs. This left the Coroner’s hands totally tied. He had reopened an inquest on the basis of exploring possible valuable new evidence, but was refused access to the Report in which that evidence appeared and to evidence from the police personnel from Manchester who had collected the information used in the Report. Consequently he abandoned the inquest. ‘In the light of the judgment of Mr Justice Nicholson, I have decided not to resume the Inquests but instead to proceed to register the deaths.., my aim in deciding to hold Inquests for the reasons I expressed when I opened the inquests into the deaths of Toman, Burns and McKerr is no longer achievable’ (8 September 1994). Leckey had been the fifth coroner involved in this long-running inquest.

In April 2000 the European Court of Human Rights heard evidence in relation to the killing of Gervaise McKerr. Three other cases were considered at the same time: the deaths of IRA members Patrick Kelly at Loughgall in 1987 and Pearse Jordan in 1992, and the killing by loyalists, in collusion with the RUC, of Sinn Féin member Patrick Shanaghan in Castlederg, County Tyrone in August 1991. The argument of lawyers was that the British government had failed to uphold Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to life. The Court found that the British government had a case to answer in relation to all the deaths concerned. It is not known, as of the time of writing, whether the judges will move to a full hearing or reach a judgement without such a hearing, as they are entitled to do.

Two of the people centrally involved in the struggle to achieve truth and justice through the inquests are now dead — Pat Finucane, murdered by loyalists in 1989, and Eleanor McKerr, the widow of Gervaise, who died of cancer on 31 October 1996. Before her death, Eleanor wrote a personal account of her struggle for an anthology of women writers; that account is reproduced below. Part of the complex story of shoot-to-kill in North Armagh is also told by Eleanor McKerr’s twin sister Mary Green, and by the Carroll family.

Eleanor McKerr

Thursday 11th November 1982 started for me as just another day, but before that dreadful day was over, my life had been changed drastically. Nine years have now passed, with many people talking and writing about what happened that day. I feel it is now time for me to write the personal side of my story.

I sit and watch my two sons talk and laugh, watching them proudly. I think to myself, if only Gervaise would have lived to see this day. David my youngest is now 12 years of age, a chubby boy, fair hair, the picture of his grandfather Mat, his build, his looks and sometimes his ways — a good child, very thoughtful, but sometimes he is so huffy and moody.

Then I looked at Jonathan. My, he is turning into a fine young man, I thought. He is now 17 years of age, in a few months time 18 years old, an important age in life — tall for his age and mature; you would take him for older. Jonathan is a quiet child, a thinker just like his father. He is a good child, thoughtful also. They chat happily together as if life to them was as normal as the kids round the block. But it wasn’t the same for them, I thought, and thinking what would life be like for them today if Gervaise wasn’t dead — to have a father to play with, to talk to, to tell their problems to. I watch them chat and my mind wanders back to my age of 16.

That was the age I met Gervaise. We met at a local youth club at the skating; we were young and carefree, not a care in the world. We started going out together and things developed from there.

It was at that time crowds of people assembled in every town in the six counties asking for their civil rights. Gervaise and I were two of the crowd that assembled in Lurgan. Even in those far-off days I was very conscious of the great love Gervaise and I had for justice. It seemed such a little thing to ask then, for one vote. But I remember clearly how adamant we all were. The struggle of people for civil rights has developed a long way from ‘one man, one vote’ and has been well documented in many ways and I don’t intend to go into it.

In the year 1972 Gervaise and I were married. Like many young couples of that time, we had great hopes for the future. Gervaise finished his apprenticeship and was now a joiner by trade and I, like many of the Lurgan girls, was a stitcher in a local factory. We moved into our home shortly after our marriage. We were looking forward to the birth of our first child. Jonathan was born in January 1973. I recall it clearly how proud Gervaise was to have a son.

Our son was still a baby when the first of our personal troubles came. Gervaise’s uncle by marriage was shot dead in a sectarian murder. His death was a great loss to all the family and we were all deeply saddened by it. The next death to affect us personally was that of our neighbour John Green.

When Jonathan was four years old, we went to visit Gervaise’s brother Damian and his family in Canada. It was a lovely holiday and so far removed from Ireland! We toyed with the idea of starting a home in Canada and in many ways, looking back, I can’t help wondering how different life would have been had we gone to Canada.

In 1979 our second son David was born. The years seemed to be passing quickly. There were times when we thought the trouble would soon come to an end, but it didn’t. 1981 we saw the start of the hunger strike. There were protest marches nearly every night in Lurgan and we both attended most of them. The terrible tragedy of Bobby Sands’ death, as far as I am concerned, rests completely with England. Gervaise and I attended Bobby Sands’ funeral as we did for the others.

July 1982 was perhaps one of the most memorable times of our lives. With our American friends we saw parts of Ireland that we had never seen before. After our American visitors left, Gervaise, myself, Christine, our baby sitter, and the children went off to Blackpool for our summer holidays. We spent a most enjoyable week there doing things a family would do. Gervaise believed in having a holiday every year. ‘We both worked hard and we deserved it,’ he would say.

July we had finished finalising plans to buy our home. Gervaise spent a lot of time improving our home. He was a hard worker and very good with his hands.

Many times throughout the years Gervaise was stopped by the RUC and UDR, his car searched and the usual questions asked. That was until the 11th November.

That evening I travelled home from work with my sister Mary. We usually got back home up around 10.45. On that particular night, when we reached our house, I remarked to Mary that Gervaise’s car was not there. I thought nothing of it really at the time. When I went into my home, a young friend was baby sitting. She told me Gervaise had gone on an errand and would be home shortly. He had been in the proceeds of tiling a new shower room and he left everything sitting, so I knew he had intended finishing the job when he came home.

Shortly after arriving home, a friend came to my home and told me that there had been someone shot in the Craigavon area. They said that roadblocks had been set up. As time went on and Gervaise had not returned, I assumed he could not get home with the roadblocks. But as time got on, I worried where he was. The babysitter was still with me and the neighbour that had called, when my front door knocked. When I opened the door, to my surprise it was the police. They said they had come to search my home. I did ask them, ‘What for?’ I also asked them had they a warrant to search. I don’t think I ever got a reply to my questions.

Jonathan and David were both sleeping. I was ordered to waken them up and bring them down the stairs. When I awakened them, naturally they both cried. They were frightened of what they saw — policemen with guns and police dogs. I was in a daze; what is going on, why are you doing this? Nobody spoke. They just kept on searching my home, going through my cupboards, all my personal belongings. At one point my phone rang and I went to answer it. The police woman took the receiver out of my hand. The same police woman continuously questioned my son Jonathan about where his daddy was. All the time during the search I was hoping Gervaise would come home. There was not one place on my house that the police did not search. I kept asking them what they were looking for; it seemed so pointless, as I knew there was nothing in my home that could possibly be illegal.

At 2.45 they left my home with not a word. I still didn’t know what was going on. But looking back now, the policemen who came to my home deliberately concealed the death from me and were apparently looking for evidence to support the theory that they had shot a terrorist in action.

After the RUC left, our local priest came. His words will always remain with me. ‘Mrs Kerr, there has been an accident. Your husband has been shot dead.’ What happened in the next few hours remains a blank. As the hours passed, I was aware of a lot of people around me. At one point I heard on a news bulletin that three terrorists had been shot dead, naming Eugene Toman, Sean Burns and Gervaise. It was only then that I realised that Sean and Eugene were also dead. On Friday evening the 12th November, my husband’s body was brought home. The coffin remained closed with the flag of our country draping over it. I could not believe that in this box was my husband. Had I been able to at least see his body, it might have been easier to contemplate him being dead. People came for far and near to pay their last respects. Many floral tributes came, telegrams, phone calls and mass cards too numerous to count.

Saturday morning I awakened after another sleepless night. The first thing that came to mind — Gervaise was dead. Was it a dream? The emptiness, the pain was awful. How can I face another day? How I got through those days I don’t know; I suppose I was deeply in shock. People came, people went, it still didn’t occur to me Gervaise was dead. ‘It’s not true’, I kept saying to myself.

Sunday 14th November. My husband, Eugene and Sean were laid to rest in St Coleman’s cemetery after Mass in St Peter’s Church. They received a republican funeral; a large number of people attended the funeral.

For a few weeks I still had plenty of people calling, but gradually they drifted away. My father stayed with me at night because I was terrified of being on my own. I continually kept asking questions to anyone who would listen. Why if Gervaise had been suspected by the RUC of being a terrorist, had they not arrested him at home? All sorts of questions were going through my head. I couldn’t make sense of anything that had happened — sometimes not really believing that Gervaise was dead. It was like living a nightmare.

At this stage my feelings were not helped in any way by the awful sinister phone calls I was receiving at all times of the day and night. In the end I had my phone number changed. The awful letters also came and there was nothing I could do to have them stopped.

On Wednesday night, November 25th, I was again deeply saddened when I heard the tragic news of yet another young man in the Lurgan area being shot dead and his friend being wounded, coming barely two weeks after my husband’s death.

It was around this time that [the Association for] Legal Justice started to hold an inquiry into Gervaise, Eugene and Sean’s death. I was of little help myself but was happy that at least someone was trying to find out the truth. By now, and not realising it at the time, I was feeling very low. I know I felt I had to do something about the injustice that had been going on around me, but I felt so helpless.

Then it came on the news again that two more men had been murdered in Armagh: ‘shot dead at a checkpoint, car didn’t stop, suspected terrorists, so RUC opened up, firing at the car, killing terrorists outright’, is what the papers said. Just the same thing all over again, I thought, just as Gervaise died. I cried, ‘Something has to be done. I must try and do something’.

At this stage I was not physically able to go to the homes of the men who had been killed, but I did write to the families and expressed my sympathy at their loss. After what had happened, we the families of those who had been shot got together. We had many meetings in the days to come. We decided to call on the public to help us. In doing so, we arranged for a demonstration to take place in Lurgan. We stressed that this demonstration was non-political and was organised solely by the relatives of the six murdered men. The march took place. It was a great success. Thousands turned out for it. All we wanted was the truth of how our loved ones had died and justice seen to be done.

We kept on going, collected signatures, writing to governments, to newspapers, to anyone who would listen to us. The continuing stress and pressure I was now under began to take its toll on my health and by the end of February, I was mentally and physically exhausted. My sister Mary had been asking me for some time to see a doctor, but I refused, thinking to myself that I would fight it off. Eventually my family called a doctor for me. On his advice I was admitted to hospital. I was on the verge of a breakdown. My health had deteriorated. I was now down to six stone in weight. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was smoking about 60 cigarettes a day. I just didn’t care what was going on around me and my poor children, I didn’t even know what was happening to them. I just wanted to die. It was awful. I was in a wee world of my own. I hope to God I never end up like that again.

Luckily I had my sister Mary. Without her to this day I just couldn’t have managed or got through life without her. She saw to the children while I stayed in hospital. After weeks with complete rest and treatment, I began to feel a lot stronger. I had gained weight and had come to terms and accepted Gervaise’s death more.

By now various people and politicians were calling for a full inquiry into the circumstances of their deaths. Mr John Stalker, a chief constable from Manchester, was sent over to undertake an inquiry into their deaths. John Stalker arrived to carry out an inquiry into all the deaths in the Armagh area and was obstructed at every turn as has been well documented. And when it became obvious that he meant to tell the truth, he was removed from his job, suspended while an inquiry went on which found him innocent, but by that time they had replaced him on the inquiry.

When the inquiry was completed in 1987 by Mr Stalker’s successor, a Mr Sampson, it concluded that a number of policemen had conspired to subvert the course of justice. The British government prohibited the publication of its findings and determined that no policemen would be prosecuted in the interests of national security and public interest.

Eight years have passed by and I’m still fighting on for the truth to be known and for justice. Sometimes I felt like giving up, but someone else would be killed m similar circumstances, so I was determined to carry on for justice.

November 1988, a date was set once again for the inquest. The inquest had been adjourned nine times before that. What with dates getting set back and coroners resigning, the situation was being reduced to a case of rent-a-coroner. Eight years had elapsed since my husband was murdered and I still hadn’t received a death certificate. My solicitor Pat Finucane and I went to Craigavon courthouse to the coroner’s court. Mr Elliott was the coroner. In spite of all its shortcomings, the coroner’s court is the only place that there is the slightest chance of getting to the truth. So when the coroner stated that he was not going to call the policemen who had actually killed my husband to the inquest, even though they would have been behind the screens, I instructed my solicitor to fight this particular ruling. We left the court that morning and my solicitor applied to the High Court in Belfast to seek a judicial review. Belfast High Court upheld the coroner’s decision, so I lost the High Court case, but we appealed it and won on appeal. Then the DPP lodged a further appeal with the House of Lords, so that meant the inquest was stopped once again.

It is with great sadness that I recall the killing of my solicitor Pat Finucane. Pat Was shot in his home on February 13th, 1989 in front of his wife and children. His Wife was also wounded. A loyalist group claimed responsibility for his killing. I will never forget Pat. He understood the true meaning of justice and it was his desire for justice which made him take on my case when others thought it was a waste of time. But sadly his determination for justice and also his success rate cost him his life.

January 1990 I travelled to London to attend the hearing in the House of Lords. Sadly I lost again. I was very disappointed at the outcome, particularly for my legal representatives who put up a very good case on my behalf. But at the end of the day I still believe the policemen involved in the killing should be required to give evidence.

It is with great sadness that I recall the Christmas of 1982. I had made a conscious effort to try and make it enjoyable for my children. With my sister Mary’s help we put our Christmas tree up and arrange our presents. On Christmas Day we went to my parents’ home and spent the rest of the Christmas holiday there. I visited Gervaise’s family home. His mother, father and brothers were very deep in mourning and had given little thought to Christmas that year.

Now I sit here watching my children with Christmas 1991 approaching very quickly. In a few days time Gervaise will be nine years dead. I feel very sad. In a few years’ time, hopefully Jonathan will be away to university, David will still be attending school, and what will the future have in store for me? Will the inquest be over by then? Will I put the past behind me and make a new life for myself? Life’s hard, life’s lonely, but life must go on.

Mary Green

She used to say, ‘At least they will think twice before they do this again’.
I think that she was right because after that, there was less shoot-to-kill.
In its place there was collusion; they just got somebody to do the shooting
for them. I’d like to think she made an impact.

On the evening of 11 November 1982, my sister Eleanor and I went to our work as usual. When we returned home later than night, about 10.45 p.m., Eleanor said to me that Gervaise’s car was not there. She thought nothing of this and went into the house. I went home myself. About 3 a.m. I was awakened by a knock on the door. When I opened, a friend told me to go to Eleanor’s house as she needed me; they said Gervaise may have been murdered.

When I arrived at my sister’s house, she told me that the RUC had just left the house after raiding it. The search had lasted a few hours. Her two young sons were taken from their beds and made to sit through this ordeal. During the search my sister kept asking why her house was being raided; had they arrested her husband? They said nothing. A police woman was looking though one of Eleanor’s photo albums continually and asked her son Jonathan to point to his daddy in the photographs. The RUC found nothing. As they were leaving, my sister asked the person in charge had Gervaise been arrested and if so, which barracks he was in. The RUC man stared at her, turned his back and left without saying a word.

At about 3.30 a.m., I was called into the kitchen as a priest had arrived and asked to speak to Eleanor. We brought him into a room where he told Eleanor that Gervaise had been murdered, along with two other people. Eleanor screamed, ‘The bastards have murdered him’. A short time later I left to inform Gervaise’s family and my own family about his death. One of Gervaise’s brothers then went to identify the body.

When Gervaise’s body arrived home, the lid of the coffin had to be kept on and this made it harder for my sister to accept his death. A few months later she suffered a nervous breakdown. Once she regained her health, she decided to seek the truth about her husband’s murder through the courts.

Although Eleanor wanted to fight, she was worried where she was going to get the money to pay for the legal battle. Gervaise was dead; she had no job, two small children and little money to live on. I told her they couldn’t get blood from a stone; if she hadn’t got it, they couldn’t take it from her.

Three RUC men — Montgomery, Robinson and Brannigan — were charged with the death of Eugene Toman, one of the others murdered along with Gervaise. Nothing came out of that court case. The RUC men were acquitted. At that time the judge, Gibson, said the RUC had brought Gervaise, Eugene and Sean [Bums] to the final court of justice. Eleanor didn’t go to hear the verdict that day. In fact, she only went to the court for a couple of days. She couldn’t listen to the lies.

During the trial the RUC said they had followed two of the men (one of whom was Gervaise’s cousin) to Eleanor’s house that night before they later shot them. Eleanor said if they knew all these things, then why didn’t they come to the house and lift them? She said the police should be charged, for there should not be one rule for the police and another for everyone else. The truth was the most important thing, the truth and then justice.

The next stage was to get an inquest. Eleanor’s solicitor told us he would get a date for the inquest, but, as far as we could gather, all he wanted was to get the inquest over as quickly as possible. Eleanor told him no way was she going into the court house and not putting up a fight. She decided to get another solicitor. We spoke to Councillor Brendan Curran and he said he would look for another solicitor for us. Pat Finucane was introduced to us and he became Eleanor’s solicitor. When he got all the details from us, he said: ‘I am your solicitor. I’ll do all I can for you. You tell me what to do and what you want and I’ll do it. Whatever you don’t know, I will guide you.’

This course of action led to a legal battle which lasted 12 years and numerous court appearances. Eleanor went from the coroner’s court to the High Court, the House of Lords, back and forth. Always at her side was her solicitor, Pat Finucane, who was brutally murdered while the case was going on. At each appearance in court, especially the coroner’s court, the heavy RUC presence was intimidating; but this, and even the murder of her solicitor, could not deter my sister from her fight for truth and justice.

During this time, Stalker, a top policeman from England, was brought in to investigate these murders and the murders of three other men in the north Annagh area at the same time. Stalker and other members of his team visited Eleanor. She listened to them and answered a few questions. She told him that there had been a court case and that the policemen had been acquitted. They told her that if she had got new evidence, she could bring the policemen back to court. But she told them they didn’t understand where they were. This is Northern Ireland, not England; it’s like beating your head off a brick wall in this country.

It was the end of 1994 when the inquest finally ended. The RUC blocked access to documents, so the Coroner, Mr Leckey, decided that the inquest couldn’t get any further. In the end, he just issued death certificates.

While my sister’s legal battle was going on, her house was raided by the RUC and British army on many occasions. During one of the raids, they suggested to her that she should go to America to live. She was followed by the RUC and any car she was travelling in was stopped. Over the 12 years of legal action my sister continually asked the RUC for the return of her husband’s car, the contents of the car and his clothes. All she received was a wallet and wedding ring. We believe everything else has been destroyed.

My sister believed in what she was fighting for until the day she died. She was a really strong person. She used to say, ‘At least they will think twice before they do this again’. I think that she was right because after that, there was less shoot-to-kill. In its place there was collusion; they just got somebody to do the shooting for them. I’d like to think she made an impact. She might not have seemed to have got justice but she achieved a hell of a lot. That was her way of keeping going. In her mind she had to do something. First of all, Gervaise was a good husband and she really loved him. And she also thought why should the police not be prosecuted like everyone else. There shouldn’t be one rule for the RUC and one for everyone else.

The Carrolls

No policeman goes out to shoot anybody hoping that in retrospect it will all be ratified; you can’t do that. In this system, you know that when you pull the trigger it's okayed before you do that. You are protected.

Mrs Carroll: We were just home from my father’s funeral that night. We were only in the house an hour when Adrian phoned to tell us that there was shooting at Mullacreavie. Some of them here in the house decided to go over to Mullacreavie to see. The police had it all blocked off. We wanted to go on down but the police wouldn’t let us. Then somebody said it was Seamus Grew. We came back home then; it was nearly three o’clock in the morning. At three o’clock the police came then to tell us what had happened. They said there had been an accident over at Mullacreavie; there was a road block and they didn’t stop — that’s what they said.
The funeral was on the Thursday. After the funeral was over, Father Murray came. He went around asking people what they had seen, taking statements. Stalker got the statements. There was an RUC man charged with the murder.

Tommy: They had come up with this story that they had pulled in front of them and waved an RUC cap out the window in order to stop them. We presume that Roddy had already been shot. Seamie Grew got out of the car, put his hands in the air and one of his fingers was shot off. I think that was why they charged Robinson; the fact that Seamie had got out of the car didn’t hold up the story of two men bursting through a road block.
I was in Long Kesh when Roddy was shot and the screws came down to the hut window probably about one o’clock in the morning and asked for the hut OC. I was called over. The screw shouted through the window, ‘Your brother has been shot’. That is the way I was told.

Mrs Carroll: The inquest was set. The night before, it was announced that the policeman was being charged with the murder and that was it stopped.

Tommy: Robinson was charged with the murder of Seamus Grew. The whole thing burst open when Robinson panicked. He thought that the trial was for real and that he was going to get done. He said that after the shooting they had all been brought back up to Gough Barracks. Assistant Chief Constable McAtamney was there and they concocted this story that they were to give to the investigating officers.

Mrs Carroll: What came out at the trial was this. My father was buried away at Desertmartin and they had got home before us. Irene lived in Monaghan at the time and they brought her home to Monaghan. They were tailed to Monaghan and down to Castleblaney.

Tommy: There was a man in ‘Blaney called [X...] whose house they called at that night. When they left the house, [X...] phoned the RUC. The RUC followed them from the South. In the meantime, back in Armagh the RUC had already planned to murder them but they had to get them into the right position. They had a hit squad sitting in Armagh. When they got the phone call, they left the barracks and a road block was set up at Girvan’s Bridge, about three miles outside Armagh city. Roddy and Seamie came down through the road block, but the hit squad who were supposed to shoot them crashed the car. Roddy and Seaime drove past the people who were meant to shoot them at Girvan’s Bridge, not even realising what was going on. But the RUC commandeered someone else’s car and drove after them towards Mullacreavie. The RUC contacted [X...] and he got a taxi up to Keady Barracks, ran inside it and never was seen since. The RUC knew that when they left [X...] home they were not armed.

Mrs Carroll: Robinson got off; he was acquitted. He said he thought that his life was in danger and that is why he shot.

Tommy: I applied for parole when my grandfather died and to this day I often wonder if they used that knowledge, knowing that the Carroll family were going to be in the one place, to start tailing. I think the gardai were aware that the RUC were in the 26 counties although it was claimed that they were not carrying Weapons. When Stalker came he was specifically told not to investigate the role of the garda or anything over the border. They were tailed to Monaghan, through Enniskee and we were supposed to believe that the gardai were unaware of it.
Stalker was brought in because of what happened in that trial. When he was brought in to investigate, he took statements from people up in the parochial house. Harry McBride, an ex-RUC sergeant, said he heard a barrage of shots; he thought he was under fire and dove under the settee. When he realised that there were no bullets coming through the window, he got up and to this day he would tell you that he witnessed murder.

Mrs Carroll: He thought that his house was under fire, that it was the IRA shooting at him, so he and his wife got down on the ground. When he realised that it wasn’t at him, he got up. He said that he heard two single shots long after the attack.

Tommy. I remember it was literally hours before Hermon was about to be interviewed that Stalker was suspended. In 1989, Patrick Mayhew, who was then the British Attorney General, said that in the national interest the eleven RUC men who perverted the course of justice would not be prosecuted. When you look at the whole thing, they actually sat down and planned how they would murder people and then swing an operation in to make it all plausible.

Tommy: We are always being told, ‘It’s in the past. We can’t open old sores. It’s too long ago to investigate’. This week someone from the Second World War has been charged under English law with murdering four Jews in Belarus fifty years ago. You tend to become cynical about the whole thing.

Mrs Carroll: At every juncture they were signing public immunity certificates. You had Mr Leckey conducting it all like it was perfectly normal. You just have total disgust for the whole lot of them. They talk about the thugs and killers in our community but what they have is well-dressed, well-educated, well-spoken murderers. In my mind that is simply what they are.

Tommy: If you take the case of Toman, it was the same scenario — ’Drove through a road block at high speed’. Toman got out of the car too. But the handle is on the inside of the door; you couldn’t fall on it to open it; you had to specifically put your hand on it and pull it out to open it. How could a dead man do that? The people who investigated the scene of the crime didn’t even notice that.

Mrs Carroll: I never knew Eleanor [McKerr] beforehand. She contacted me to see what we could do. We had meetings and organised protests. She went to England a lot — Troops Out meetings, protests and things like that.

Tommy: The RUC stage-managed looking along the roadside for arms that they knew weren’t there. So that is all part and parcel of the imagery that they build in people’s minds.
I think it was 12 years before they issued the death certificate. And all the magnificent, majestic law had to offer us was that they were dead. When you look back on it all — from the shooting, the lies that were issued and the RUC men looking for guns on the road, the inquest, the murder trial, the Attorney General issuing the immunity certificate — you realise that the state can dispose of you and then can set the wheels in motion to make it all look legal.
Public Immunity in the national interest was used all down the line. The national interest is something that would be used in the case of a high powered spy. My brother Roddy was twenty two years of age and had never left Armagh. They were using these big sledgehanuners to contain something that was in the local area.

Mrs Carroll: He was harassed every time he went out. He never had a day’s peace, up and down the town with the police and army. He was lifted more times.
[On Eleanor McKerr] She went on her own. The Tomans and Burnses didn’t go. She made up her mind that she would never give up; she went on to the end.

Tommy: But you saw the futility of it all. You had all the respectable people in Ireland, it was acceptable to them all. You had bishops and nuns taking the RUC into the schools. The nationalist establishment offered tuts about it, but it didn’t really bother them; it didn’t impinge on their lives.

Mrs Carroll: We met Stalker up at Father Murray’s. I thought it was a whitewash. I gave the statements and went along but when you are dealing with the police you know you are going to get nowhere.

Tommy: When they went to destroy Stalker, there was an English businessman called Kevin Taylor; they destroyed him too. So they were prepared to destroy everything to protect themselves. That is how you know it went right up to cabinet level. No policeman goes out to shoot anybody hoping that in retrospect it will all be ratified; you can’t do that. In this system, you know that when you pull the trigger, it’s okayed before you do that. You are protected.
In the case of the Lurgan ones, the judge, Gibson, actually congratulated the RUC on good shooting. When you look back, you can see things. They were trying to introduce an Ulsterisation policy. They had decided they were going to wipe people out. They thought the RUC could do it and get away with it, but the RUC were not able to do it and get away with it. That is why the SAS came in to do it. The SAS came in to do the shooting and the lawyers made sure they were debriefed. The RUC were seen as too partisan; they had all the baggage of their unionist, loyalist backgrounds. They couldn’t shoot people while pretending to be an impartial service; it just wouldn’t wash. They learned out of those six killings that it wasn’t going to work. They knew they were going to have to get rid of certain people here so they needed another method. So they just brought the SAS in accompanied with lawyers.
I wouldn’t want anybody to go to jail, for they were agents of the Crown carrying out the orders of the Crown. But that it all didn’t happen in vain is for the people who sent them, those in the suits and the ermine robes, to apologise to the people of Ireland for what they had done — then for them to leave Ireland in a situation whereby nothing like this could ever happen again.
You hear the politicians talking about ‘real victims’. Anyone on the Irish nationalist side is not a real victim in my opinion. Mo Mowlam can spout off her huggy wuggy and kissy wissy, but she is not really sincere. Everything that happened here happened because they wanted it to happen and it was carried out for a specific purpose. We are not considered to be real victims; we are miscreants and deserve what we get.

Mrs Carroll: Because of the campaigns, they couldn’t get away with them. They sort of called a halt to them. They might have had more lined up to wipe out.

Publication Contents

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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