14 August 2003 Edition
PSNI search homes of former UDR soldiers
BY ÁINE Ní BHRIAIN
The homes of up to 30 former UDR soldiers have been searched by PSNI officers investigating the nearly 30-year-old killing of independent nationalist councillor Patrick Kelly.
The PSNI are looking into claims that UDR soldiers were responsible for the shooting death of the father-of-four on 24 July 1974.
Kelly, who was 33 at the time, went missing after locking up the Corner Bar in Trillick, Co Tyrone. His body was not found until three weeks later, when a fisherman spotted something on the surface of Lough Eyes, Co Fermanagh, almost ten miles away. Kelly had been shot several times. Two 56lb agricultural weights were attached to his body.
The UDA later claimed responsibility for the murder, but in 1999 a former UDR soldier named David Jordan publically confessed to witnessing the killing. Jordan reportedly broke down in a pub and wept as he named six of his UDR collegues, saying they had carried out the attack.
Det Superintendent Alan Hunter of the West Midlands Police has been drafted in from England to head the newly reopened investigation. He told a press conference this week that he wants to either substantiate the claims or "put them to rest".
As a result, teams of 20 to 30 PSNI men have now spent two days speaking to ex-UDR members in order to "obtain their recollection of events on the night, specifically in relation to their movements.
"Searches are also being conducted of their homes to prove or disprove their involvement," read a PSNI statement.
Furious unionist politicians have branded the searches "harassment" and claim the uniformed intrusion has been "heavy-handed".
"These men have lived in and served the Trillick community for years and this is the way they are being paid for their service," huffed angry Omagh UUP councillor Bert Wilson, who had been head of the platoon at the centre of the investigation. "This action of searching former soldiers' homes is the lowest of the low. It is a disgrace that these people, many of whom are in ill-health, are being treated in this way."
Meanwhile, Patrick Kelly's family has renewed the demand for an independent inquiry into his death, which will be the subject of a judicial review next month. They say they will not cooperate with the current investigation, as they have no faith in its outcome.
The family is concerned that PSNI detectives assigned to the new investigation could also be the same ones originally responsible for the case.
"We believe that Patsy was murdered by members of the UDR and that members of the RUC colluded in ensuring the escape of his killers from justice," said Pat Fahy, the family's solicitor. "By their own admission, the PSNI has conceeded that the special relationship with ex-UDR, ex-RUC and current members of the PSNI may hinder any re-investigation.
"Quite apart from the difficulties created by the passage of time, through the actions of the RUC, vital evidence was either ignored or destroyed," says Fahy, "The fingerprints found at the murder scene were never checked, the footprints - which matched army issue boots - were never followed up, despite the fact that there were, in August 1974, named UDR suspects.
"These are all matters central to any real attempt to find the killers of Patsy Kelly and, equally importantly, the identities of those who have conspired to pervert the course of justice since then. We remain to be convinced that this is the purpose of the present police exercise."
The relationship between Det Hunter and the Kelly family is already strained after it was revealed last week that the PSNI had announced they were reopening the case to the press before they had informed the Kelly family. That error was compounded when the PSNI then requested a meeting with the family without their solicitor present.
Now investigators have refused to allow the family access to the names of the PSNI officers involved in the inquiry, and Hunter has asked that the Kelly family not speak to the media in future without his approval.
No one has ever been arrested, charged or convicted in connection with Patrick Kelly's killing.