7 December 2000 Edition
McBride Day of Action
Supporters of the McBride family gathered in London on Friday 1 December as part of the International Day of Action organised by the Pat Finucane Centre to highlight the continued employment by the British Army of the two Scots Guards convicted of murdering Peter McBride.
In 1992, Scots Guardsmen Fisher and Wright shot an unarmed Peter McBride in the back after previously stopping, questioning, and searching him. The soldiers served less than six years of life sentences for murder and were released from prison in 1998. At the time, the two soldiers were only the third and fourth soldiers ever convicted of murdering a civilian while on duty in Ireland.
The Day of Action was originally intended to highlight the Army Board's delay in reaching a decision on the future of the men, but the focus was changed after the board announced their decision to retain the two in the army.
In London, protesters taking part in a series of flying pickets first descended on Downing Street, before moving on to the Ministry of Defence (where a letter of protest addressed to the British Minister of Defence Geoff Hoon was handed in) Horseguard's Parade and the main Army recuitment office on The Strand, which was forced to close. Protesters then moved on to Buckingham Palace, where members ignored police requests to disperse and continued to hand out leaflets highlighting the case.
The picket then moved on to the Guards Regimental Museum, before returning again to Downing Street and making a surprise return to the MoD in Whitehall. This time they succeeded in gaining entry to the lobby but were soon forcibly removed after police were called. The final target of the day was the traditional tourist-orientated pomp and ceremony of the Changing of the Guard in Horseguard's Parade, where the presence of the protesters distributing leaflets among the crowd caused the police to stop the ceremony.
Nick Mullen, one of the organisers of the London Day of Action, said that campaign supporters were extremely pleased with the way the day had gone, both in terms of the support the protest had received and with the response from the public. ``We have no intention of giving up this campaign until these two liars and killers have been thrown out of the British Army,'' he said.
Sick Christmas card stunt
In a separate and rather sinister development on the day of action a `Christmas card' arrived at the offices of the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry. The official British Army issue Christmas card, posted in an official UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) envelope was addressed to the PFC from ``All ranks, 1st Battalion Scots Guards, Nanyuki, Kenya'', where the regiment is currently in training. The card appears to have been sent in order to coincide with the anniversary of Peter McBride's birthday last Thursday, but was delayed in the post. A spokesperson for the PFC responded:
``We can only be grateful that whoever sent this didn't have an address for the McBride family. It's been a desperate time for them. An Army Board, including a senior government minister, concludes that the murder of their son was a less serious offence than smoking dope and then the tabloid press, spearheaded by the Daily Mail, runs headlines referring to `courageous soldiers, jailed for doing their duty'. Put in this context, it's hardly surprising that a gloating and offensive card is sent signed on behalf of the 1st Battalion, Scots Guards. It's pitiful.''
Reacting to the news of the card, Jean McBride said she felt like she had been ``thrown to the ground and kicked once again'' by those who had already done so much to hurt her family. ``It's ironic that on the same day I received the most beautiful bunch of flowers from an elderly gentleman in Japan who had read of the decision on the Web and was appalled.''
Labour MP Kevin McNamara also expressed his disgust at the card. ``Sending a Christmas card in this manner would constitute a sick and callous act aimed at intimidation of relatives of a murder victim by the perpetrators,'' he said. ``Whoever has done this is guilty of deeply irreligious and offensive behaviour. If those responsible were Scots Guards, it further demonstrates the folly of allowing Guardsmen Fisher and Wright to resume their military careers with impunity.
``Minister of Defence Geoff Hoon MP should order an immediate investigation to establish the truth and demonstrate his determination to root out all those involved or responsible of whatever rank. If this card did indeed emanate from a unit of the Scots Guards and no action is taken, this incident will reinforce the argument that sections of the British Army are out of control. This behaviour cannot be tolerated. Public confidence demands that rogue units are dealt with swiftly and without prevarication.''
Protests in Australia and Europe
As well as the protest in London, events took place around the world on Friday 1 December as part of the International Day of Action on behalf of the family of Peter McBride. Supporters also gathered in Sydney, Australia and Frankfurt and Berlin in Germany to protest against the retention of the two Scots Guards.
In Sydney, protesters held a lunchtime protest at the British Consulate. Supporters holding giant placards explained details of the case to passers-by through a loudhailer and hundreds of leaflets were handed out. The British Consul General agreed to forward a letter of protest to the Ministry of Defence in response to their reply to an earlier letter handed in during the Day of Action in September. Security around the Consulate was high, with Australian Federal Police, Australian Protective Services and building security officers present.
In Frankfurt, a delegation from various groups submitted a letter of protest to the British General Consulate. One member of the delegation was allowed through tight security to have a 20-minute meeting with the British Consul, during which the dismissal of Fisher and Wright was demanded. A letter of protest was also handed in to the British Embassy in Berlin.
Parallel to these activities, a German lawyer sent a letter to the German Minister of Defence raising questions in relation to the current debate in Germany about the exclusion of persons from the Federal Army who have committed serious crimes. The letter questioned whether these rules should also apply to British soldiers serving in Germany; that is, whether convicted murderers should be allowed to serve as soldiers on German soil? It is believed that Fisher and Wright are currently stationed with the British Army on the Rhine. The letter asked all party political spokespersons on military affairs to state their position on this matter.
Irish Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna released a statement on Friday promising to raise the killing of Peter McBride and the continued employment of his killers by the British Army in the European Parliament. She described the Army Board's decision as ``outrageous...It is very disturbing that two convicted murderers should benefit from a special derogation to rules that are quite clear and strict on such matters. How come these two men convicted of murdering an 18-year-old unarmed civilian are allowed to continue their career in the British Army while in the meantime over 1,400 soldiers have been dismissed from the same army for taking drugs? Why is it that British soldiers based in Northern Ireland always appear to be given special treatment? ...The Army Board decision could easily be interpreted as condoning murder...''
A motion condemning the decision will be put before the Dáil in coming days.
On Friday, the Presbyterian Moderator in Ireland, Trevor Morrow, told a BBC interviewer that he could not support the retentiont of the two Guardsmen in the British Army. Seamus Close of the Alliance Party described the retention as `obscene.'
The next International Day of Action will be held on Thursday 24 May 2001 to mark the United Nations adoption of the Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.
In Syracuse, New York, Congressman James T. Walsh, chair of the United States Congress Friends of Ireland grouping, called the decision by the British Ministry of Defense to reinstate Fisher and Wright ``an insult to the family and friends of Peter McBride and to the all the people of Northern Ireland''.
``The decision of the British Army late last week to reinstate two convicted murderers is a travesty,'' said Walsh. ``Though convicted, their release and lack of appropriate punishment was already a slap to the McBride Family and to all of Northern Ireland. The news of their reinstatement in the British Army is a deplorable outrage. In my view, the government officials who authorised their reinstatement are just as culpable as these two murderers.''
Walsh urged British government officials and the Army Board to reverse their decision and dismiss the soldiers. According to Walsh, failure to do so would undermine the already-fragile confidence in the rule of law and contravene the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
Peter McBride, 18, had twice participated in Central New York's Project Children programme, which brings dozens of Protestant and Catholic Irish children to Upstate New York each summer. After he was killed, the 1993 Syracuse St. Patrick's Parade was dedicated in his memory.