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The Troubles cast a shadow over Brexit
December 2018 / January 2019

What motivates the Ballymurphy families’ quest for justice, is no different from what has motivated those families who for decades have demanded answers to the criminal justice system’s two biggest single failures of the entire conflict: not a single member of the IRA has been convicted of the two largest acts of mass murder: the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings which killed 21 people; and the 1998 Omagh car bombing by republicans opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, killing 29 including two unborn children. Of those 29 dead, nine were children and three generations from one family.

In these two terrible events, more than 420 people were injured, many with life-changing injuries: lost limbs, blindness and paralysis. In both incidents, the police solemnly promised the relatives of the dead and survivors that no stone would be left unturned. Yet in both massacres two very big stones were left unturned.

In the case of the pub bombings, the West Midlands Police reopened the investigation in 1991 following the release of the six Irishmen (The Birmingham Six) who the Court of Appeal found had been wrongly convicted 16 years earlier.
By 1993, “Operation Review” had identified five prime suspects for the bombings, including the two men who planted the bombs. The police assessed that one of the planters was a 34-year-old ex-British soldier, James Francis Gavin.

During my own recent investigation into the pub bombings for ITV, I discovered that Gavin had been well within the grasp of the West Midlands Police just six weeks after the bombings. On January 8, 1975, he was arrested. Traces of explosives were found in a car he drove. Yet inexplicably he was released and within hours had fled to Ireland. No doubt the police’s lenient attitude to Gavin was influenced by the belief that they’d already got the real culprits. The Birmingham Six had been charged after four of them “confessed” — despite the fact that these “confessions” were wreathed in contradictions because they’d been beaten out of them by the police.

But then a bit of physical coercion in the 1970s was par for the course, even for the courts. Dismissing the Six’s first appeal in March 1976, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, mused whether the men had been knocked about “beyond the ordinary”, his curiosity aroused by a photograph of a black eye “the origin of which I had forgotten but do not think it matters much anyway”. This was the same Lord Chief Justice whose whitewash of 1 Para at Bloody Sunday four years earlier was overturned by Lord Saville in 2010.

In 1993 Gavin was interviewed by the police in the Irish Republic, where he was serving life for the murder of a man the IRA believed was an informer. Questioned about his role in the Birmingham pub bombings, Gavin declined to answer any questions. After “Operation Review” submitted files on him and his four fellow prime suspects, the DPP announced in 1994 there was insufficient evidence to charge any of them, at which point “Operation Review” appears to have pretty much given up. “The file . . . is now closed,” announced West Midlands Chief Constable Ron Hadfield.
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December 20th, 2018
8:12 PM
We can rely on Gareth Peirce and her indefatigable Fifth Column to put right everything that is wrong, no matter what the cost.

December 6th, 2018
11:12 PM
In reply to nobby, who states 'you cannot compare a soldier who made a mistake in the heat of the moment......' my father was shot dead in cold blood by members of the MRF, a unit of the British Army who drove around Belfast in plain clothes in unmarked cars 'executing' civilians. Eventually this unit were disbanded as they were deemed to be 'out of control'. Obviously we expect these soldiers to be tried for the murder of our Dad. And why not? Wouldn't you want to see justice done if you were in our position?

John Ware
December 6th, 2018
7:12 PM
Nobby: The (regular) army killed 160 civilians, and 121 republican terrorists (Table 18, p 1561, Lost Lives). Most of those civilians were shot in the early and most violent phase of the conflict, and many may well have died in cross fire (including, I suspect, some of the 11 shot in Ballymurphy at the start of internment in August 1971). I trust you noticed my comment that ".....whatever crimes soldiers may have committed, people will struggle to see the remotest moral equivalence between the British Army and the IRA." John Ware

December 6th, 2018
10:12 AM
on the whole I agree with the solution to the legacy of unsolved killings put forward in this article.However there are a few points I would make.Firstly the author gives the impression that a large majority of the British Armys victims were civilians.In fact the army killed 149 terrorists and 152 civilians,roughly 50-50.Secondly you cannot compare a soldier who makes a mistake in the heat of the moment with a terrorist who carries out a pre planned cold bloded murder.Look at the Kingsmill massacre where the IRA stopped a minibus carrying workers home from a building site,seperated the protestants from the Catholic,whose name they knew,and then shot the Protestants.Nobody has ever been prosecuted for that either.I would be interested to know what proportion of Terrorist murders were successfully prosecuted,I suspect it is not as high as this article gives the impression of.Finally how can it be just to prosecute an old soldier who made one terrible mistake 40 years ago when the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin Mcguiness were/are allowed to pose as respectable elder statesmen.

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