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Majella O'Hare

British government apologises for killing of Majella O'Hare

The British Minister for Defence has issued a formal apology to the family of 12-year-old Majella O’Hare, who was shot twice in the back by a British paratrooper in 1976.

THE BRITISH MINISTRY of Defence has formally apologised for the death of a 12-year-old girl, who was shot twice in the back by a British paratrooper in Armagh in 1976.

Almost 35 years after Majella O’Hare was killed while walking with friends to church, the British Defence Secretary Liam Fox has signed a letter to be given to her elderly mother at a ceremony in Belfast, the Guardian reports.

The letter corrects the army’s former official account of the killing, and admits that the courtroom explanation given by the solider responsible, Private Michael Williams, was “unlikely”, the BBC reports.

O’Hare died on 14 August 1976, following a succession of sectarian murders in south Armagh. She and a group of school friends has passed an army patrol by about 20 or 30 yards when shots rang out. Majella was hit twice in the back.

Her brother Michael, now 62, said that Willians “would have had to exert between 10 and 12lb of pressure” to fire his weapon. He also told the Guardian of the heartbreaking scene that followed:

“My father was the school caretaker and he had been outside cutting the grass and tidying up. He heard shots. There was panic; he knew something terrible had happened and ran to the scene.

“The soldiers were giving him abuse, shouting: ‘What do you think you are doing? You’re only the fucking grass-cutter.’ Even after he found her on the road and cradled her in his arms, they were abusive.”

He added: “My father was so affected afterwards; he never really recovered from the shock.”

Despite being airlifted to hospital by a military helicopter, Majella died before she could reach help.

Williams was initially charged with murder by the RUC. However, he said that he had fired in response to an IRA sniper attack and, by the time the case went to trial, the charge had been reduced to manslaughter.

Although there was no independent evidence of a sniper being present or any other shots being fired, Lord Justice Maurice Gibson ruled that a gunman was most likely present and acquitted Williams of manslaughter, reports RTÉ.

The letter to be presented to 88-year-old Mary O’Hare, Majella’s mother, reads:

“I apologise for Majella’s death and offer you my heartfelt sympathy. Although many years have passed, I have no doubt that your grief and that of your family has not diminished … both the initial investigation by the RUC and the more recent review have concluded that it was unlikely that there was a gunman in the area when the soldier involved opened fire and struck Majella, as he claimed.

“The soldier’s actions resulted in the loss of a young and innocent life, causing sorrow and anguish for those who knew and loved Majella.

“On behalf of the army and the government, I am profoundly sorry that this tragic incident should have happened.”

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