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File photo dated 31 July, 1972, of wrecked truck outside the Beavpont Arms in Claudy, Co Derry. PA Wire/Press Association Images
Claudy Bombing

Church, RUC and British govt covered up for IRA bomb priest

Fr Chesney sent to Donegal in wake of Derry bombs as ‘punishment’.

THE POLICE OMBUDSMAN of the North has released a report detailing the collusion involved in covering up a priest’s role in a 1972 bombing attack.

Three bombs exploded without warning in Claudy, Co Derry, on 31 July, 1972, killing nine people, including an eight-year-old girl.

Ombudsman Al Hutchinson said today that the RUC, the Catholic Church, and the British government had colluded to prevent Fr James Chesney becoming involved in their investigation into the bombing.

He said a deal had been reached between the church and the authorities to remove Chesney to a parish in the republic of Ireland, compromising the investigation and failing “those who were murdered, injured or bereaved” by the attack.

Main findings

The report can be found in full here.

  • The original papers from the 1972 investigation into the bombings cannot be found, but information provided for the inquest, including witness statements, was available to Hutchinson
  • Phone lines had been damaged in earlier attacks, and two men asked local shop assistants to inform police that there were three bombs in Claudy. By the time the information reached the police, the first bomb had exploded
  • A police document from 1972 said that Fr Chesney had provided an alibi to a man suspected of the bombings, and suggested Fr Chesney was involved himself. However, the Ombudsman found no documentation supporting this
  • Intelligence from August 1972 identified Fr Chesney as the head of the Provisional IRA in South Derry.
  • Police reports from that month alleged Chesney had directed the bombings, and that both he and the man he had provided an alibi for were involved in other terrorist activities
  • A police letter to the Northern Ireland Office asked what could be done to “render harmless a dangerous priest, Father Chesney, who is leading an IRA unit in South Derry”
  • The NIO responded, saying that Cardinal Conway already knew Chesney was a “very bad man” and would see what could be done, possibly transferring him to Donegal
  • An RUC remark on the note that Chesney could be transferred reads: “I would prefer transfer to Tipperary”
  • Conway’s diary entry of 4 February 1973 describes him confronting Chesney, but Chesney denied any involvement in the bombings
  • Conway had no power to remove Chesney; he could only be transferred by the bishop of Derry
  • Chesney was transferred to Raphoe, Co Donegal after an illness in November, 1973

Public appeal

Hutchinson opened an inquiry into the bombings in 2002, after the 30th anniversary of the murders. Shortly after announcing a review of the investigation, the PSNI received a letter signed from a “Father Liam” who claimed Fr Chesney told him he was a member of the IRA and.

He said Chesney’s unit had been ordered to carry out the bombing, and had intended to phone in a warning but found all the telephones out of order.

Despite a public appeal, the author of the letter never came forward. Police doubt it was written by a Catholic priest, and say it contains numerous errors.

An inquest held in September 1973 into the deaths returned an ‘Open Verdict’. No one has ever been charged with offences arising from the bombing.

Hutchinson said he found no evidence of criminal intent by anyone in the Catholic Church or the government.

[caption id="attachment_14722" align="alignnone" width="252" caption="Undated file picture of Father James Chesney."][/caption]