AP front 1 - 2022

1 May 1997 Edition

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Soldier laughed at plastic-bullet victim

By Eoin O Broin

Thirteen year old year old Lurgan boy Gavin McKenna was shot in the head and seriously injured when a British soldier fired a plastic bullet at him on Saturday night 26 April. His family has called for a charge of attempted murder to be brought against the British soldier responsible.

Witnesses have told An Phoblacht that the British soldier fired from almost point blank range. In contravention of regulations governing the use of these weapons the soldier fired an aimed shot at the boy's head.

Eyewitnesses said the incident was unprovoked. However official press releases from the British Army and RUC accused the children of throwing stones at the patrol, a claim strongly denied by local people.

Gavin and several other young boys were collecting wood for a bonfire when a passing British Army patrol opened fire in the town's Antrim Road. The baton round damaged the optical nerve in Gavin's left eye, and as yet doctors are unsure if he will regain his sight.

In an interview with An Phoblacht Gavin and his mother Kathleen spoke of their anger and disbelief at the actions of the British Army. ``Gavin has never been in any trouble before,'' said his mother. ``He was with about six or seven friends collecting wood. He was bending over, and as he stood up he turned around and the plastic bullet hit him in the head.''

``After the ambulance arrived and was driving me to the hospital,'' Gavin said, ``I could see the soldier with the plastic bullet gun pointing at me and laughing.''

Following the shooting Gavin's father attempted to lodge an official complaint with the RUC. During a phone conversation with an RUC man from Lurgan RUC station, Gavin's father was told that the RUC couldn't take a complaint against the soldier in question. The RUC also refused to assist Gavin's family with details of which regiment the foot patrol is from.

Kathleen McKenna has called for the prosecution of the soldier in question for attempted murder. ``It's a disgrace that the army can come here and do this to a young child'' she said.

The incident comes at a time of intense military activity in Lurgan. Residents spoke of the high level of foot patrols and verbal harassment received by young people in the area. Gavin said that the young people in the area felt as if the army and RUC were trying to provoke a reaction.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1