The night before Robert McGuinness was murdered a bomb-disposal officer was killed in an explosion in the Brandywell area of the city.
Captain Barry Gritten of the Royal Army Ordnance Corp who was attached to the 22 Light Air Defence Regiment, was inspecting an IRA explosives cache located in a derelict house in the area when it partially exploded.
The bomb-disposal expert died at the scene and three other soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in the incident. The 29-year-old deceased soldier came from Darlington and was married with two children.
Some of the witnesses to the shooting of Robert McGuinness believes that the soldiers were in the area the following night (June 22, 1973) looking to exact revenge for the killing of the British officer.
One witness said: “I could hear the other soldiers calling to one another and using very strong language. From the way they carried on in the lane I firmly believed they were a vengeance squad. They sounded drunk or drugged to me.”
A soldier referred to as ‘Soldier A’ who in Robert McGuinness’ inquest file admits firing the round which killed him, was also a member of the 22 Light Air Defence Regiment.
A Freedom of Information request lodged to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in relation to the killing of Captain Gritten produced some partially redacted British Army intelligence files and also some held by the former Royal Ulster Constabulary-now the property of the PSNI.
Part of the material obtained by the Derry News states: “Even though the PSNI have completed a review of Captain Gritten’s murder, the case still remains open and if new evidence comes forward the PSNI will reinvestigate the murder.”
Also, British Army information on the explosion that killed Captain Gritten was recorded at both Northern Ireland wide and at a local level.
The British Daily Operations Brief for Northern Ireland 20-21 June 1973, recorded that: “In Londonderry, it was an eventful day. An ATO (Army Technical Officer) was killed and another soldier seriously injured when a Brandywell house was being investigated.”
At local level the 22 Light Air Defence Regiment which was tasked to operate in the city centre, Bogside and Brandywell areas. They recorded: “At 00:18 hours in Hamilton Street (derelict) an explosion occurred. There were two SF (security force) casualties. Captain BS Gritten (dead).”
It should however be noted that another British Army document records the scene of the explosion as being at a house in Quarry Street in the Brandywell.
Another soldier, whose name is blanked out received serious head injuries and the report then continues by stating: “Two other soldiers received minor injuries. Earlier a patrol had reported finding a bomb making kit in the house. ATO was tasked and was examining the house when the explosion occurred.”
A police intelligence file, carrying information from British military intelligence on the matter contains blanked out references to two IRA suspects that it was claimed “were handling the explosives on the night that Captain Gritten was killed.”
And, another police file contains the blanked out name of another republican suspect and states that a ‘device’ within the IRA explosives cache was rigged to kill. That report states: “(Name blanked out) was involved in the booby-trapped bomb which killed a member of the SF (security forces) and injured three others.”
A final RUC intelligence file states: “(Name blanked out) and others was responsible for the murder of Captain Gritten. They had been assembling bombs and left a booby-trap.”
With many thanks to: Derry Now for the original story.
The original inquest into the death of Robert McGuinness was held on November 29th, 1973-around five months after his murder
It is a document that had, until recent months, never been seen by anyone from the McGuinness family.
A straightforward request to the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland to release the file however still took almost two years to process.
The documents revealed that the inquest into Robert McGuinness’ death recorded an ‘Open Verdict.’ Essentially, this means the verdict records that a death is suspicious but that it was not possible for a jury to reach any other verdict.
So, in the case of Robert McGuinness this left ‘open’ the possibility that he was, as said by the man who fired the bullet that killed him, brandishing a revolver at the time he was shot.
According to the original inquest papers, eight jurors sat and listened to the evidence presented to them and Coroner Major Hubert O’Neill in the Robert McGuinness’ case at Derry courthouse almost 46 years ago.
A Police Report Concerning Death in the inquest file states that: “This man was shot was by the Army on 22/6/73 at around 1am in Brandywell Avenue. At the time the Army say McGuinness was armed with a revolver. The weapon was not recovered by the Army.”
It should also be noted that in this period, soldiers involved in shooting incidents were not interviewed directly by the RUC. Instead statements were taken from them by the Royal Military Police and then handed over to the local police force.
So, this provided no scope for external questioning of military personnel.
The verdict paper in the case simply records that Mr McGuinness passed away at Altnagelvin Hospital at 7.30pm on June 26, 1973. The cause of death is recorded as “(a) Pneumonia and Peritonitis due to (b) gunshot wound of the left chest and abdomen.”
A statement given by a forensic scientist who examined the jumper worn by Robert McGuinness when he was shot says: “There is a small hole in the rear of the jumper and a larger hole in the front. Although no lead residues were detected around either of the holes, they are consistent with bullet holes, in the bullet entering the rear and leaving at the front. There is nothing to indicate close range shooting.”
Whilst the forensic statement clearly indicates that Robert McGuinness was shot in the back, the statement of ‘Soldier A’, the man who fired the shot the fatal round differs from that scientific conclusion in that he said he fired at the victims chest.
‘Soldier A’, was a member of the 22 Light Air Defence Regiment stationed at a temporary encampment on Foyle Road close to Craigavon Bridge and, a few hundred yards away from the Brandywell area.
His statement, taken around midnight the night after (June 22, 1973) Robert McGuinnees was shot says: “On 22 June, 1973 about 0114 hrs, I was a member of a two vehicle patrol which was patrolling the Brandywell area of Londonderry.
“We were all dressed in DPM Combat Kit and armed with SLRs. I was travelling in the rear of Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) 1.
“Sitting opposite me was Gnr ‘B’. We were both looking out over the rear doors. We were moving up Brandywell Ave with the intention of turning right into Brandywell Rd. On the junction of Brandywell Ave/Lecky Rd were a group of about ten youths.
“On approaching the junction to turn right a youth approached the APC from the left, the offside and grabbed hold of ‘Bs’ rifle barrel. ‘B’ struggled to keep hold of his rifle. I noticed that the group of youths on the Lecky Rd junction had disappeared and it was then that I saw a youth run out into the road from behind a black Cortina, which was parked outside Brandywell Ave.
“I saw that he had a pistol in his right hand. This he put into the aim position aiming at the APC.
“I cocked my SLR, attached to which was a magazine containing 10 x 7.62 rounds. I fired 1 x 7.62 round and saw the gunman jerk violently backwards and fall to the ground.
“A crowd of about 50-60 people formed and the APC by this time had turned right towards Brandywell Road and I lost sight of the gunman.
“At the time of the incident it was not raining and visibility was good due to street lights being in Lecky Rd and a certain amount of light coming from a spot light in the grounds of St Columb’s College.
“The distance between myself and the gunman when I fired was about 20 yards. I aimed at the centre of his chest.”
The witness statement of ‘Soldier B’ completely mimics that of ‘Soldier A’ in his recollection of the sequence of events. This includes a claim that Robert McGuinness had a pistol in his right hand and was taking aim at their vehicle when he was hit.
‘Soldier F’ said: “I saw the youth in the purple jumper walk left around the corner into Southend Park. I again sighted him walking back around Brandywell Ave into that street. I saw he had a small object in his left hand. I couldn’t see what it was. I immediately became suspicious and shouted to ‘H’ ‘watch that bloke, he’s got something in his hand.’
“We started to walk backwards along Deanery Street and as I did so I saw the leading APC following us slowly and about to turn into Deanery Street from Brandywell Avenue, when, at 0112 hrs I heard the sound of a HV (high-velocity) shot.”
However, the recorded testimony of ‘Soldier C’ also in the leading patrol said: “I did not see him with any form of firearm, or any object lying near him.”
The remaining British Army personnel-‘Soldiers D, E, F, G, H, J and K’ make references to a group of youths in the area in the period before ‘Soldier A’ fired his shot. Their estimates of the number of youths vary between around forty to sixty.
None of the soldiers statements, including that of ‘Soldier A’ indicate that a verbal warning was issued to the ‘gunman’ before the fatal round was fired.
Some of these soldiers also claim that some of these youths offered verbal harassment, but not to an extent where they were likely to cause a major incident or provoke retaliation from the British Army.
‘Soldier E’ for example stated: “When initially travelling down Lecky Road to AnneStreet/Foyle Road (Making the U Turn), I noticed up to 50 persons, mainly young people aged 18 years onwards, congregating between Brandywell Road and the Y junction on the Lecky Road.
“They were standing in doorways, generally loitering with no purpose. None of these people directed any shouting or remarks to me, but as we passed them ‘D’ reported to me by radio, that the youths had shown hostility towards his APC. The report of this crowd was logged at 0106 hrs.
“I would add that these youths were well spaced along the Lecky Road, but in my experience of many patrols in the area there were a lot of people about for that time of night.
“Apart from this, the rest of the area was quiet and peaceful. I can state that between the time we left on patrol at 055 hrs and at the time of the shooting, which I will describe at 0112 hrs, there was no incident, apart from the incident I have mentioned involving ‘D.’”
After the witness statement of ‘Soldier C’ none of the remaining army personnel who gave statements mention seeing ‘Soldier A’ discharge his rifle or seeing his target lying on the ground after he was hit.
In fact of the ten soldiers whose statements are contained Robert McGuinness’ inquest file only two of them actually mentions a direct claim of seeing a pistol in the hands of the victim. These were ‘Soldier A’ and ‘Soldier B’, the man who fired the shot and the man standing beside him respectively.
With many thanks to: Derry Now for the original story
The Ballymurphy Inquest has heard that ballistics experts cannot be sure which kind of bullet struck one of the victims or where the shooter was located.
There has been evidence suggesting several locations for the person who shot John McKerr, 49.
Mr McKerr died on Westrock Drive in August 1971.
He was one of 10 people who were shot and killed in west Belfast over a three-day period.
Some of the evidence has suggested the shot that killed Mr McKerr may have been aimed and fired by a paratrooper standing on the junction of Ballymurphy Road and Westrock Drive.
It has also been considered whether the shot could have been fired from a different direction, from a nearby area known as Corry’s Timber Yard.
The court has heard that local people considered the yard to be an observation post or sniper position used by the Army.
Ballymurphy: Who were the victims?
Because of the oblique angle at which Mr McKerr’s head was struck, three ballistics experts have been unable to conclude if the shot was from a low or high-velocity weapon.
A soldier’s SLR rifle would fire a high-velocity bullet, and a low-velocity bullet might come from a pistol or sub-machine gun.
All three of the ballistics experts think both are possible.
However, the ballistics expert for the next of kin considers a high-velocity bullet more likely to have caused Mr McKerr’s injuries.
The court heard that other types of weapon than those used by soldiers could fire such a bullet.
The court also heard evidence of “numerous” locations from which a stray bullet could conceivably have come.
It could also have been a ricochet shot.
Earlier, the inquest heard how the son of one of the first victims killed said he later saw another shooting.
Paul Connolly’s mother Joan was the only woman killed over the three days of shootings in August 1971.
Mr Connolly has been unable to give evidence at the inquest in person due to ill health, but has provided statements to the Coroner’s investigator.
Witnessed single shot
Mr Connolly remembered watching a soldier from his home on Ballymurphy Road.
He recalled looking out as his father set off to go and identify the body of his wife, Joan Connolly.
Paul Connolly said that, as he watched, the soldier fired a single shot in the direction of Corpus Christi Church, outside which John McKerr was walking.
Mr Connolly’s statements explain that he walked far enough from his home to see Mr McKerr’s body, without approaching it.
The inquest into John McKerr’s death has now finished hearing evidence.
Two of the 10 deaths over three days in August 1971 have been examined in detail so far.
The Ballymurphy Inquest will resume public hearings in the new year.
With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story.
Martin McShane was the eldest of a family with six children. Members of his family described him as a quiet and industrious boy who despite his years still posessed a childhood innocence that was reflected in his love for make believe games. He played football for Coalisland Fianna minor team and was keenly interested in other sports. He was also a keen fisherman, and would often go fishing in Roughan Lough with his uncle.
On the evening of 14 December 1971, Martin had been playing with five other boys, all aged between eleven and sixteen years, near the youth club in the middle of the Meenagh Park housing estate. The youth club was part of MacRory Park Gaelic Athletic Association. The boys, two of whom were Martin’s brothers, were playing a game they had made up known as ‘jail break’. In the middle of their game Martin decided to go home and get his coat. He was only in his home a matter of seconds before returning to rejoin his friends. Directly after he returned he ran off towards the end of the road on which the youth club was situated and hid behind a gate pillar. It was dark and Martin called on his friends to come and get him. A few seconds after he shouted a number of shots rang out. Adults inside the GAA Club hearing the shots ran out to investigate. The other children pointed out where Martin had been playing and the men ran to the gate pillar. They found Martin lying just inside a field a few yards from MacRory Park. He was dead. He had been shot in the temple, the neck, and the body. Beside the dead youth lay a broken plastic toy gun. Locals quickly established that British soldiers hidden amongst some hedging in the field had shot Martin. After shooting the boy they immediately fled the scene and no Crown forces returned for some forty-five minutes.
It was over 24-hours before a British army spokesman admitted their forces were responsible for the killing. During the day following the shooting the British army’s Press Office released two versions of the incident. In their first statement they claimed a Royal Marine Commando patrol that was in Meenagh Park was fired on by three men who made off in a car. The men were seen by the army patrol throwing a rifle out off the car. The implication of the statement being Martin was shot in crossfire. A second statement later claimed the army patrol was near the Meenagh Park estate when they saw a person acting suspiciously. This person they said was carrying a weapon, and after climbing over a fence was seen to take up a firing position, where upon he was shot. The patrol fired a flare to light up the area and saw a weapon under the body. ‘A crowd gathered round so the patrol did not go near,’ and withdrew. Martin McShane’s father replying to the British army statements said his son had not been armed. ‘All his son thought about’ he said ‘was football and playing. He just thought of sport.
Martin was not in the IRA. He was in nothing. I call it brutal murder.’ An inquest into Martin’s killing was held in April 1972. None of the British soldiers who took part in the killing attended the hearing. A British army legal representative read out all their statements, and each soldier was identified only by letters of the alphabet-‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. In their statements the soldiers claimed they were part of a patrol hiding in a hedge in a field when a figure vaulted over a fence. They said the figure spun round in a crouch position, facing in the direction where they were hiding. They said they then heard a metal click and opened fire. They all admitted they had fired without warning. The British Army’s representative during the hearing tried to connect Martin to a rifle reportedly found on the same night, but two miles from the scene of the killing. A forensic expert called by the British army representative said he had detected lead smears on his hands of the dead youth. Eyewitnesses and relatives disputed the British Army version of the shooting, as well as the forensic expert’s evidence. They pointed out that the fence the dead boy allegedly vaulted over was far to too high for anyone to have done so.
A Royal Ulster Constabulary officer who inspected the scene confirmed the fact. The toy gun seen by civilians who found Martin’s body, and recovered later by the British soldiers when they returned to the scene was revealed to have had no fingerprints on it. Martin’s family denied he had ever owned it. As for the lead traces found on Martin’s hands his relatives said the boy had been working earlier that day with fishing tackle along with his uncle. One of Martin’s young friends told the hearing they played near the youth club and the GAA grounds nearly every night. He said even older lads than Martin joined in the games. He said he had watched Martin going up the road and into a field and shortly afterwards heard a burst of automatic gunfire. This he said was followed by a single shot.
The jury returned an open verdict. Some years after Martin’s killing his family brought a criminal injury case against the British Ministry of Defence for the wrongful killing of their son. In July 1975 the claim was rejected. The judge at the hearing accepting totally the British army version of the shooting, adding that the British soldier who shot Martin McShane was justified in firing, and that his action was not unreasonable.
No British soldiers were ever charged in connection with the killing of Martin McShane.
With many thanks to: PH Pearse Galbally Cappagh for the original posting.