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Families of bombing victims say they have 'damning proof' police lied about it being 'an IRA own-goal'

Fifteen people were killed in the UVF attack on McGurk’s Bar in Belfast in 1971.

mcg Rescuers, soldiers and civilians searching for survivors in the rubble of McGurk's Bar in Belfast in December 1971. Source: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

SOLICITORS ACTING ON behalf of a number of families who lost loved ones in a bombing in Belfast 47 years ago have claimed military documents confirm that police deliberately spread disinformation about the incident.

Fifteen people were killed in the attack on McGurk’s Bar, which was carried out by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) at 8.47pm on 4 December 1971. Two children were among the dead and several other people were badly injured.

Kinnear & Co Solicitors said researcher Ciarán MacAirt, whose grandmother Kathleen Irvine was killed in the bombing, recently discovered “damning proof” against the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in a British military archive. 

A statement notes that the RUC, the police force in Northern Ireland prior to the PSNI, “originated and disseminated the lie that the atrocity was an “IRA own-goal” just over four hours after the bombing”.

An entry in a British Ministry of Defence archive, which was logged at 1am on 5 December 1971, states: “RUC have a line that the bomb in the pub was a bomb designed to be used elsewhere, left in the pub to be picked up by Provisional IRA. Bomb went off and was a mistake. RUC press office have a line on it – NI should deal with them.”

ruc A section from the military log in question. Source: Kinnear & Co Solicitors

The solicitors’ statement notes that no police investigation to date “has been able to substantiate or even provenance the initial lie that the McGurk’s Bar bombing was the result an IRA “mistake””.

A number of the victims’ families have called on George Hamilton, Chief Constable of the PSNI, to “substantiate the police lie now or admit the police created it”. 

It is obvious from this startling document that the British Army washed its hands of the RUC “line”. Normally British Army PR handled “terrorist-related” questions from the press but had referred all queries to RUC press office for the “line” deliberately invented by the police.

Speaking on behalf of Kinnear and Co Solicitors, Niall Ó’Murchú said the office this week contacted the Police Ombudsman and the PSNI to “notify them that we have been instructed to initiate proceedings against them in respect of this new information, unless there is a prompt and proper response to the concerns our clients raise”.

“The onus should not be on families to uncover information, it should be on the British Government to initiate an immediate and independent fresh investigation,” he added.

The PSNI said it has previously reviewed the military operation log in question and it contained no information which presented “any new credible opportunity to progress the investigation”.

In 2011, a Police Ombudsman probe identified investigative bias in how the RUC handled the case. It concluded that police failed to properly investigate loyalist responsibility for the bombing.

However, the Historical Enquiries Team later reached a different conclusion – claiming there was no evidence of any bias on the part of the RUC.

‘Blew themselves up by accident’ 

Gerard Keenan, whose parents Edward and Sarah Keenan were killed in the bombing, said the new material “shows that the RUC knew the bar was attacked by pro-British loyalist extremists (the UVF)”. 

Yet in these archives they are talking about “having a line on it” to deal with the press. And then, six hours later, they deliberately put out the story that my parents and the other victims were in the IRA and had blown themselves up by accident.

Keenan said the RUC “were working hand-in-glove with the UVF and the British Army to protect those responsible and cover-up the bombing”.

Last month, Keenan’s family filed a legal challenge against the Attorney General John Larkin’s decision not to order a fresh inquest into the bombing. 

No new lines of enquiry 

When asked to comment on the statement, the PSNI’s Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke told TheJournal.ie: “I wish to place on record my deepest sympathy for the victims and families of the McGurk’s Bar atrocity that took place on 4 December 1971.

“I fully appreciate and acknowledge the suffering still being experienced by all of the families of those killed and injured in this terrible atrocity.”

He noted that the Chief Constable is on record stating that the PSNI “fully accepts the findings of the Police Ombudsman regarding the original investigation into the McGurk’s bar atrocity, including the finding of investigative bias”.

We also accept that these murders were carried out by the UVF and any previous attribution to the Provisional IRA was incorrect.

“The bombing was the subject of a review by the Historical Enquiries Team and an investigation by our Serious Crime Branch. There are ongoing judicial review proceedings concerning the HET report and PSNI will continue to cooperate fully with these proceedings.”

Clarke added that the PSNI has previously examined the material provided, which included the military operation logs, and there was “no information from it which presented any new credible opportunity to progress the investigation”.

“Unfortunately there are currently no new lines of enquiry which would assist us in bringing to justice the accomplices of the UVF terrorist who was convicted in connection with the atrocity.

“If new evidence emerges, we will thoroughly examine it to establish if there are grounds for a further reinvestigation. I would appeal to anyone in possession of information or evidence which would help bring more people to justice to come forward.”

Comments are closed due to ongoing legal proceedings. 

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Órla Ryan

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