From Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister on the 4th May 1979 until her resignation on the 28h November 1990, ten children aged sixteen or under were killed by the security forces (the number is actually eleven as Hugh Maguire should be included in this list, see below). For anyone who wishes to evaluate or find the positive in a re-evaluation of her premiership, it is hard to ignore the recurrent moral failure to adequately protect children over whom she claimed the right to rule. Indeed, Thatcher herself had stated herself on 10th November 1981 that:
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom; as much as my constituency is.
That phrase is so fondly misquoted by Unionists as ‘as British as Finchley’. Yet, another irony of the stories below is that they occurred under the term of office she began with that paraphrasing of the anthem of the British Legion called Make Me A Channel of Your Peace in her famous speech on the steps of Number 10:
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.
In pretty much every case below, there was no proper investigation and no prosecutions arose from the killing, in the one instance where a prosecution took place, it was in a non-jury Diplock Court and found the defendant not guilty despite his statement, on which his innocence was based, being contradicted by forensic evidence. Half of those killed died after being struck by plastic bullets fired a distances considerably below the minimum recommended range of 20 yards. Indeed, if one wants to find deep echoes and resonances of the institutional attitudes and prejudices that both contributed and magnified the tragedy of the Hillsborough disaster, look no further than these names and brief outlines of their tragic stories.
Doreen McGuinness (16) was travelling in a stolen car that was opened fire on by the British Army at a check point on New Years Day 1980. Paul Moan (15) was also in a stolen car that was fired upon at a checkpoint later in year on 31st March, the soldiers involved did not attend the inquest but their statements were read out as was that of the driver of the car in which Paul was a back-seat passenger. The in absentia evidence was accepted by the inquest and there was no other investigation.
The death of Hugh Maguire (9) during street disturbances on 10 February 1980 is not attributed in the list by Sutton, despite the fact that eyewitnesses claim he was knocked down by a British army vehicle that mounted the footpath in circumstance that were not fully investigated. Despite an apparent absence of firm evidence to substantiate the finding, the coroner decided that he had been struck with an iron bar during a disturbance.
Michael McCartan (16) was painting slogans on a gable wall in the lower Ormeau area on 23 July 1980 when he was passed by an unmarked RUC van which pulled up around a corner. When he walked around the corner, he saw an armed RUC man and turned around. At this point, the RUC man, who was later tried in a non-jury Diplock Court, claimed that he had saw what looked like a gun in McCartan’s hand, shouted a warning which was ignored and then shot him believing that he was about to be fired upon as the RUC had stated that blast bombs and shots had been fired in the area that evening. Forensic evidence that indicated he had been shot in the back was ignored by the Diplock Court and the RUC man was acquitted. Locals deny there was any violence in the area that evening and there were no reports of disturbances. This is the only instance of a prosecution, although the discrepancy in the evidence and the verdict do not suggest that it was either proper or took full account of the circumstances.
Paul Whitters (15) was shot in the head with a plastic bullet by an RUC man on the 15 April 1981. The RUC did not perform a full investigation, and a statement was read out in absentia from the RUC man at the inquest stating that the round was fired at a distance of 20-25 yards during stone-throwing. Eye-witnesses offered statements to the coroner’s inquiry in December 1982 and claimed that stone-throwing had ceased and that the plastic bullet was fired from a distance of 6-7 yards. The coroner directed the jury towards the RUC evidence, but they still found that the round had been fired at a distance of 15-20 yards (below the legal limit) and that Paul had been the ‘ring-leader’ of a crowd of stone-throwers. He had been alone in the road when the plastic bullet was fired. No full investigation or prosecutions arose.
Julie Livingstone was 14 when she was returning from a local shop in Lenadoon on 12 May 1981. A plastic bullet, one of two, discharged from a British Army vehicle struck her on the head and she died the next day. At an inquest in October 1983, statements were read out in absentia from the soldiers who fired the plastic bullets. In it they claimed they had fired and hit a petrol-bomber at a distance of 15-20 m during rioting, contradicting eye-witness testimony that said that. while there was rioting further along the Stewartstown Road, there was no rioting at the location where Julie was killed. Under questioning, the RUC detective reading out the statement admitted that the person shot with the plastic bullet (i.e. Julie) could have been a perfectly innocent passer-by. The hearing also heard that the plastic bullet had been fired at a distance of 5-6 yards. Despite this, there was no full investigation or prosecutions.
Carol Ann Kelly was just 12 when she was asked by a neighbour to go to the local shop for milk on the 19 May 1981. An army patrol fired two plastic bullets at her, hitting her on the head. She died two days later. The soldier involved claimed they were responding to a crowd throwing missiles but eye-witnesses insist there was no trouble in the area at the time.
John Dempsey (16) was among a group of members of Fianna na hEireann who drove a minibus into the Fall Road Depot intending to set fire to buses on the 8 July, 1981 following the announcement of the death of Joe McDonnell. On spotting British soldiers inside the depot, they youths fled and John Dempsey was hit and killed by a single shot fired by the soldiers. Statements from the soldiers read to the coroners inquiry, in absentia, claimed that they had come under attack from petrol and acid bombs, shouted three warnings then fired. Eye-witnesses have claimed that a single warning was shouted as the shot was fired, there were no acid bombs and no missiles thrown. There was no further investigation.
Danny Barrett (15) was sitting on the garden wall of his home in Havana Court when he was shot dead by a British Army sniper firing from the observation post on Ewart’s Mill (Flax Street). Appearing anonymously at the inquest, and with prepared statements read by an RUC man the soldier that fired the shot claimed he had taken aim at a gunman (some shots had been fired earlier), shot him and saw him fall over a wall. An RUC man claimed to have saw discharges from a weapon, but some 70 yards from the scene. The was no cross-examination or proper investigation and no prosecutions followed. The ambulance bringing Danny to hospital was stopped out Ewart’s Mill to question all the occupants, a second time on Flax Street and a third time when it turned onto the Crumlin Road. Danny was pronounced dead in the ambulance at the Mater.
Stephen McConomy was only 11 in April 1982 when he was shot in the head, at a distance of up to 17 feet, with a plastic bullet discharged from a passing Army land rover. The Army claimed the shot was fired in accident. He was just yards from his Bogside home and there was no trouble in the area at the time. However, the soldier that fired the plastic bullet had taken the gun from the designated gunner and leaned across him to fire out a window. The soldier also threatened to do the same to anyone who attempted to come to Stephen’s aid while he lay on the ground in Fahan Street. The gun was later destroyed before any possible examination preventing a full investigation. The soldier involved was never charged or disciplined.
Seamus Duffy was only 15 when he died after being by a plastic fired by an RUC patrol in Dawson Street in the New Lodge on August 9th 1989. At his inquest, the RUC stated that he had been identified in riots which were taking place at the time and had been struck by a baton round fired at a distance of 43 m. The pathologists report identified that he had been struck at a distance of 6-7 m. It also emerged that there was no rioting taking place in Dawson Street at the time and that two RUC officers gave their statements after viewing video footage which misidentified a rioter as Seamus. There was no systematic investigation or prosecution arising from Seamus’ death.
Thatcher neglected, appropriately, a reference to that the last verse of that British Legion anthem:
Make me a channel of your peace:
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.
But, Shakespeare seems a much more appropriate source for anyone who, for whatever reason, feels compelled to attend her funeral next week.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that [wo]men do lives after them
Julius Caesar. Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 2