2 August 2001 Edition

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Belfast 1981 victims remembered

A plaque to commemorate the deaths of three people killed by the Crown forces in 1981 was unveiled at Linden Street off the Falls Road last Thursday, 26 July.

The unveiling was carried out by members of the families of Nora McCabe and Peter Doherty, shot dead by members of the Crown forces using plastic bullets, and of INLA Volunteer Matt McLarnon, killed on active service by the British Army.

Nora McCabe's death occurred on the morning of 9 July 1981, within hours of the death of hunger striker Joe McDonnell. She had just left her sister's house on Linden Street and was on her way to a local shop to buy cigarettes when she was shot from the back of an RUC Land Rover.

The RUC, who denied they had fired a plastic bullet in the area at the time, were later found out. Indeed, the most senior RUC member in West Belfast at the time, Jimmy Critchley, who was later promoted, told an inquest in 1982 that he saw two youths with petrol bombs running out of Clonard Street, which is about 30 yards down the Falls Road from Linden Street, and so ordered a plastic bullet to be fired. Other RUC members gave similar evidence.

However, a Canadian camera crew submitted video evidence to the inquest that showed the incident and completely contradicted the evidence of the crew of the RUC vehicle. The inquest was adjourned until the film was investigated.

The film showed the RUC Land Rover stopping at the corner of Linden Street and the Falls Road and firing a plastic bullet. There was no evidence on the film of petrol bombs being thrown.

The inquest, resumed in 1983, accepted the evidence of the tape rather than that of the RUC and ruled that Nora McCabe was ``an innocent party''. After the inquest, the evidence was presented to the Department of Public Prosecutions, yet the DPP directed that there be no prosecutions.

Peter Doherty's death was a similar parody of justice. Shot in the head by a British Royal Marine, also with a plastic bullet, Peter died a week after being shot.

The Crown forces had entered the Albert Street area in the Lower Falls to remove barricades and came under attack from some local youths. Reports from the time say that at most three petrol bombs were hurled at the crown forces, who replied by firing plastic bullets indiscriminately.

One Brit in particular fired a continual hail of plastic bullets. According to a witness who was in the flat when Peter was shot, Peter had just warned people to stay away from the window and went to close it when he was fatally wounded.

The plastic bullet hit him on the forehead and lodged itself there. He died a week later in the Royal Victoria hospital.

Two inquest juries failed to come to a verdict as they were unable to agree as to whether or not Peter had been throwing petrol bombs from the flat.

The woman who shared the flat with Doherty denied British Army claims that missiles were thrown from the flat and when the foreman said the jury couldn't agree he asked it to be recorded that two jurists accepted that no missiles were thrown.

A second inquest, held in November 1982, also failed to reach a verdict, saying the evidence was inconclusive. The jury asked it to be noted that the facts were inconclusive because the marine who fired the fatal shot refused to appear. However, the jury withdrew its request after the coroner intervened, saying their rider implied the death had not been fully investigated.

The third person to be commemorated in Thursday's ceremony was INLA Volunteer Matt McLarnon. The 21-year-old was on active service when he was shot dead by the British Army in the Divis Flats complex in the hours after the death on hunger strike of Francis Hughes. As the mortally wounded man was being taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital by Knights of Malta ambulance, British soldiers stopped the vehicle and deliberately held it, thus preventing McLarnon from receiving immediate medical attention.

At the time, Matt McLarnon was married with one child and his wife Rose was expecting a second. That child, Sinead, now 20 years old, represented her family and helped unveil the memorial. She also laid a wreath in memory of her father.

Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hartley gave the main oration at the ceremony, which was organised by the Lower Falls/Clonard 1980/81 Commemoration Committee.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1