23 March 2005 Edition

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Still waiting for justice

An announcement by the NIO and PSNI that £30 million is to be made available to review unsolved killings related to the conflict brought no hope for justice to the family of Francis Rowntree. In 1972, Francis Rowntree became the first of many children to be killed by the British Army and RUC using rubber and plastic bullets. Francis was just eleven years of age when a British soldier fired a rubber bullet into his head at point blank range. The rubber bullet had been doctored, hollowed out and a battery inserted, to render it more lethal.

Francis was the second youngest child in a family of five. He died of his injuries two days after the shooting, without ever regaining consciousness.

"All we ever wanted was an acknowledgement that Francis' killing was wrong and should never have happened," his mother, Theresa, recently told the press.

But any hopes the family entertained were swiftly dashed after the PSNI rejected a reinvestigation into the killing.

The PSNI has claimed that the doctored rubber bullet found at the scene of the killing, which was handed over to the RUC at the time by the then MP for West Belfast Paddy Devlin, has been 'lost'. It was also disclosed that the RUC did not take witness statements from either the Anglian Regiment soldier who killed Francis Rowntree or any other members of the British patrol.

Clara Reilly of Relatives for Justice, who has supported the Rowntree family's search for justice since 1972, said the the PSNI's treatment of Francis Rowntree's case should serve as an indicator that the Serious Crime Review Team cannot command the confidence of victims of state violence or collusion.

Meanwhile, the PSNI team has announced it will be reinvestigating the killing of Derry man Dermot McShane. McShane died during demonstrations in support of the residents of Garvaghy Road after an Orange march was forces through the nationalist area. Dermot was behind a makeshift wooden barrier when a British army armoured vehicle, weighing almost ten tonnes, advanced towards him then drove over the wooden barrier crushing Dermot beneath. Dermot died four hours later.

At an inquest into the death, the coroner's court heard that it was six months after the killing before the RUC investigating officers questioned the British soldier driving the vehicle and eleven months before details of the case were sent to the DPP.

The RUC's actions were subsequently criticised by the European Court of Human Rights. It is remains unclear whether McShane's killer remains a member of the British Army.

Despite the death, the British Army never convened a board of inquiry into the incident and it is unclear if any disciplinary procedures were ever instigated.


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