26 July 2007 Edition
HET whitewash exposed
Theresa Watt, the widow of Barney Watt, and Tom Holland of the Ardoyne Commemoration Committee, discuss the Resolution Report from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) into the Ardoyne man’s 1971 killing by the British Army.
Theresa Watt was scathing of the HET who approached her and told her they they would be reviewing her husband’s death.
“I thought they would come back to tell me an innocent man was shot, but they did nothing. They rehashed the inquest papers and reports from the papers and didn’t reinvestigate Barney’s killing.
“If this is the way they look at these cases then what is the point in anybody going near them?”
BY LAURA FRIEL
The family of Barney Watt, shot dead by the British Army 35 years ago, has dismissed the Historical Enquiries Team as a sham. Angry, disgusted and used is how Barney’s widow, Theresa Watt, described her feelings towards the HET after they failed to answer any of the outstanding questions surrounding the controversial killing. “We were badly let down in 1971 and we’ve been badly let down now,” said Theresa.
The family’s sense of pain and betrayal has been heightened by the fact that the HET sought them out and offered false hope that their questions would finally be answered.
“The HET approached me after all these years. They reopened my husband’s case. I was just trying to get on with my life as best I could when they brought this all up again,” said Theresa.
“To be honest, I feel disgusted and used. I regret bringing them into my home and pouring my heart out in the belief that something positive might come out of this. I’m angry, angry with myself for allowing this to happen again,” said Theresa.
Last year, the HET initiated contact with the Watt family to inform them that the circumstances of Barney’s killing were going to be reviewed.
A spokesperson for the Ardoyne Commemoration Project, Tom Holland, said the Watt family had been sceptical, given that the HET was made up of serving and former members of various British forces. But the family had put their misgivings aside and decided to co-operate.
“The HET described themselves as family friendly and their manner was courteous and polite to the point of being compassionate. The HET officers stressed they were impartial and independent and asked Theresa to work with them to establish the truth. With more hope than conviction, the family eventually agreed to assist the HET,” said Tom.
During a meeting with the HET, which took place in the family’s home, Theresa described the events of the night of 5 February 1971, when her husband was killed by the British Army. She pointed out the contradictions between the British soldiers’ statements and other evidence.
At the original inquest into the killing, the British Army claimed Barney was carrying an explosive device at the time of the shooting and that the device detonated as he was shot dead. But that claim was inconsistent with medical and forensic evidence.
In a submission to the coroner’s court, a paratrooper admitted firing at Barney and went on to claim that “the round struck the man as he was in the process of turning with the throw. The man fell to the ground and as he did so the object in his hand exploded and blew him into Chatham Street”.
Two other British soldiers admitted firing their weapons. Barney sustained six penetrating wounds, consistent with being hit by two bullets. The pathologist gave the cause of death as a bullet wound to the heart. The soldiers who fired the rounds were only identified as Warrant Officer B, Sergeant C and Corporal D. All were under the command of Major A.
Forensic reports carried out on the body concluded that there was no evidence to support the view that Barney Watt had thrown or was in possession of any type of bomb. Dr John R Press, the assistant state pathologist, said that he did not find any evidence of blast injuries to Barney’s body indicating he had been in close proximity to any explosion.
Eyewitness accounts said that Barney was not engaging in any illegal activity at the time of the shooting, while statements of the soldiers involved in the killing gave inaccurate descriptions of the person they said they singled out and shot.
For the Watt family, it was a straightforward case. Either the British soldiers who killed Barney were mistaken or they were liars. “For Theresa, the work of the HET in reviewing the case was simply a case of establishing which,” said Tom Holland.
A year after the first meeting, the HET met Theresa for a second time and handed her a 24-page resolution report. The report claimed that the full circumstances of the facts surrounding the killing had been already explained at the original inquest and on the basis of information presently available there were no grounds to believe Barney Watt was unlawfully shot.
The HET admitted that they had made no attempt to identify, locate or re-interview the soldiers involved in the killings and added that the HET had no intention of interviewing these soldiers, even if their identity was known.
“The HET, without even attempting to speak to the soldiers who killed Barney and completely ignoring the weight of evidence to the contrary, concluded that Barney was lawfully killed,” said Tom.
Worse still, the report revealed the HET investigation to be nothing more than a shameful deceit. It was an exercise in selective cut and paste, reminiscent of the Weapons of Mass Destruction dodgy dossier that pre-empted Britain’s invasion of Iraq.
In a clumsy attempt to establish a context sympathetic to British forces within which their killing of Barney Watt could be set, the HET used a section out of the book Lost Lives, which described February 1971 as witnessing the killing of the first British soldier, an explosion that killed five BBC workers and two unarmed police officers, said Tom.
But what the HET didn’t mention was the fact that all the killings referred to in Lost Lives took place after the murder of Barney Watt. “Barney was also unarmed but the HET report failed to give similar recognition to this fact,” said Tom.
The HET report also quotes Michael Mailey, a person interviewed in the book, Ardoyne the Untold Truth, who described Barney as a rioter and republican minded. But the quote is carefully selected, 40 words out of a series of interviews covering the Watt killing running to about 2,500 words.
Michael Mailey’s interview clearly states that Barney was only on the scene of the riot a matter of minutes and could not have been throwing bombs. “But the HET did not choose to quote this in their report,” said Tom.
“Given the fact that even the inquest papers were given to the HET team by the family, the question has to be asked: what exactly were the HET doing for twelve months, beyond reading extracts from a couple of books and refusing to track down the soldiers who actually carried out the killing?” asked Tom.
In its mission statement, the HET promises a thorough and exhaustive re-examination consistent with the PSNI’s legal obligation of an effective investigation in a manner that would bring resolution to the families of victims. But according to the family’s solicitor, Pádraig Ó Muirigh, the HET report is just another whitewash that leaves the Watt family no further than the original military police investigation.
“This report calls into question the HET’s ability to deal with these type of cases. It is clear that they cannot provide a fully independent and effective investigation into state killings,” said Ó Muirigh.
“The Watts family should have had a thorough, effective and independent re-investigation into this matter and a proper determination of the lawfulness of the actions of the British Army.
“Instead, what the HET produced in their report was simply a review of the inquest papers and the original Royal Military Police file, which contained various statements from the soldiers involved in the killing,” said the solicitor.
“The HET did not challenge the competence of the original military police investigation or determine whether the soldiers complied with the yellow card rule before using lethal force. The HET’s review into the circumstances of the death of Barney Watt falls far short of the British Government’s obligations under the European Convention and International law.”