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30 November 2000 Edition

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Further British insult for McBride family

BY FERN LANE

Even in the sick moral universe inhabited by the British Army, and in its long and ignominious history of occupation, the retention of two killers, convicted of shooting a teenager in the back and branded as liars by a court, must be a new low. The possession of cannabis amongst army personnel is officially considered to be a worse crime than the taking of an Irish life.

The announcement by the Ministry of Defence on Friday that the Army Board had decided to permit Scots Guards James Fisher and Mark Wright to continue with their careers has caused devastation to Peter McBride's family. His mother, Jean, on hearing of the decision said: ``They think Peter's life was worth nothing, shoot him in the back and forget him. We will fight on until these two murderers are kicked out. Tony Blair should be ashamed of himself. The anniversary of Peter's birthday is next week and if they think I brought my son into this world to have him murdered and forgotten then they just don't understand what it is to be a mother.''

The Army Board was reconstituted when the High Court in Belfast overturned its original decision to reinstate the two men last September. The newly-constituted Board included General Sir Michael Jackson, notoriously involved in the events of Bloody Sunday, and John Spellar, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces.

Following the decision, which has ``rubbed salt into the wounds'' of the McBride family, Peter Mandelson has been walking all over the name of Peter McBride, both metaphorically and literally. Firstly, he tried to distance himself and his government from the decision, claiming that ``the decision was entirely a matter for the Army Board'', and then he trod on a banner reading `Peter McBride - Justice Denied' which had been placed in front of him by protestors as he left the new City Council offices in Derry after a visit on Tuesday.

The Secretary of State's claim that his government was not involved in the decision to reinstate Fisher and Wright, who were released on licence in 1998, was angrily refuted by the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), which has consistently campaigned on behalf of the McBride family.

``The Secretary of State is trying to imply that the decision, and political responsibility for it, lies with the military,'' said a PFC spokesperson. ``He is well aware that a senior member of the government, John Spellar MP, sat on the Army Board. Is he suggesting that a government minister, his own colleague, sat on the Board and gave no direction of cabinet thinking on the case?

``If the implication is that such controversial decisions are left up to the military members of the Board, which included Bloody Sunday Para General Mike Jackson, then this would indeed be a damning indictment of this government.''

The PFC was also scathing about Mandelson's comment that he had, ``suggested to Geoff Hoon, that, given the circumstances, it would be inappropriate for Fisher and Wright to serve in Northern Ireland and he agreed'', describing it as ``spin-doctoring in the extreme''. The PFC pointed out that this information was received by them two years ago at a meeting with the then Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, Doug Henderson.

The family, together with their supporters, are now considering their next legal and political moves and have stated their determination to continue with their fight. Mrs McBride said: ``If they think I'm going to give up they have another thing coming.''

A PFC spokesperson also vowed that the Centre would vigorously contest the decision: ``We are taking immediate legal advice with a view to overturning this disgraceful, insulting, racist decision. Since Wright and Fisher were convicted in 1995, over 1,400 soldiers have been dismissed following positive drug tests, yet two men who were convicted of shooting a teenager in the back are allowed to remain the `Her Majesty's armed forces. Now it's official; `Her Majesty' employs murderers. Is Britain the land of hope and glory or the land of arrogance and shame? This was clearly a racist decision by the Army Board. Peter McBride was a working class Irish Catholic, a non-person.''

A day of action, in support of the McBride family, is planned for Friday, 1 December.
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