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14 August 2003 Edition

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McBride mother brands British minister "a disgrace"

The mother of a north Belfast teenager killed by British soldiers in 1992 walked out of a meeting with John Spellar, the NIO minister with responsibilities for human rights, declaring him an "absolute disgrace".

The meeting took place at Castle Buildings on Monday. John Spellar had initially refused to meet the McBride family when he became Human Rights minister. Spellar only relented after Sinn Féin and the SDLP informed his office that they would not meet him until he met the family.

18-year-old Catholic Peter McBride was shot dead by Scots Guards soldiers in North Belfast in 1992. One soldier claimed he mistakenly thought McBride had fired a shot at him and the other claimed he thought McBride was about to throw a coffee jar bomb. Both claims were exposed as lies in court. McBride had been stopped and searched just moments earlier by the two soldiers who killed him.

Scots Guardsmen Mark Wright and James Fisher were both convicted of murder and sentenced to the mandatory life imprisonment. Yet, despite the serious nature of their crime, both soldiers were released within six years and reinstated within the regiment. The McBride family have consistently argued that as convicted killers, the two Guardsmen should not remain part of the British Army.

In 2000 John Spellar, then minister for the British armed forces, was part of a British Army board that ruled that Fisher and Wright could remain in the British Army due to "exceptional circumstances". This judgement was challenged in Belfast High Court. The court ruled that there were no "exceptional circumstances" which could allow convicted killers to remain in the British Army. But despite the ruling, Fisher and Wright have remained in the army.

During an hour-long meeting with the McBride family, Spellar insisted that the issue of the retention of Fisher and Wright in the British Army was a matter for the Ministry of Defence. As NIO Minister for human rights, Spellar claimed there is nothing he can do.

Speaking after the meeting, Jean McBride described Spellar as an absolute disgrace. "He knew he was meeting us today but he had not even bothered to find out if any decision had been taken about whether my son's killers are going to remain in the British Army," she said.

Commenting on the meeting, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the party "have always supported the family of Peter McBride in their battle to have his killers removed from the ranks of the British Army. We will continue to do this.

"We will be meeting with the McBride family in the time ahead to discuss with them how best to take forward their campaign for justice following the outcome of this meeting."

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