'Burntollet' by Bowes Egan and Vincent McCormack
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PD MARCH: [Menu] [Reading] [Summary] [Background] [Chronology] ['Burntollet'] [Sources]
Text: Bowes Egan and Vincent McCormack ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
How the 'Specials' also served
IN the latter part of this account people have been identified as being present at the Burntollet or Irish Street attacks, and, in some instances, as taking an active part in the assaults. The great majority of these named individuals have records of service with the Ulster Special Constabulary. Thus, Derek Eakin, the man who mingled with the front ranks of the march at Cumber Church, re-appeared among the missile throwers in the field by Scribetree Lane, and later was seen with a group moving along Ardmore Road towards Derry, is a serving constable with the Tullintrain Platoon.
Civil Rights investigators spoke twice with Derek Eakin. From these interviews it was not easy to develop any composite picture of his activities on January 4th. He was a liberal man, he said, an O'Neillite Unionist who wholly deplored all that happened at Burntollet. He had gone there only to remonstrate with employees from his family garage whom he named. He had heard that these men had left town to join the attack. So he knew in advance that the attack would take place, and he knew the precise location, suggested his visitors. How had he learned? the word had got round, he explained. Further pressed, he offered an alibi to prove that he was not involved in active attack. During the stoning and clubbing, he explained, he was up the road past the bridge with Albert Anderson and Robin Chichester-Clark. The first is a one-time major of Derry, now Unionist Parliamentary Member for Derry City. The latter is a Unionist Member of Parliament at Westminster and brother of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. How had these men learned in advance about the ambush site? He could not say; they had not touched on this point during discussions at the bridge.
Civil Rights investigators talked with Robin ChichesterClark to discover, among other points, whether he could, and would, sustain the account given by Derek Eakin. He would not. He told how he had driven from Strabane to Derry on that morning. Later, hearing of trouble, he had gone out towards Burntollet Bridge. He parked his car some three hundred yards to the Derry side and did not arrive in time to witness the attack. He was in the company of Albert Anderson, but writes:
"It is quite impossible for anyone to suggest that he was in my company on the Burntollet Bridge for the duration of the attack because I was not there myself, though it is perfectly true that sometime afterwards I did stand there and talk to a number of people who were passing and helping to clear the road."Albert Anderson quite specifically states that he was not present there at the time of the attack. The Members of Parliament apparently travelled out to the bridge together and, in the inimitable words of Mr. ChichesterClark, "did not see any of the rough-housing that took place".
The presence of Robin Chichester-Clark, as that of Albert Anderson, around the area of attack is of some significance. As parliamentary members for these areas they might be expected to have some knowledge of the participants, and their evidence might help police in attempts to identify those responsible. But, according to Home Affairs Minister Robert Porter, no attempt has been made to elicit information from Mr. ChichesterClark.
To return to Derek Eakin: he was asked about a photograph that bore a resemblance to him, and he showed considerable concern. Shown a blurred example, he expressed relief in terms that raised the question why he so feared photographic evidence. "Oh, I was afraid it might be my brother," he explained.
On May 21st, the Minister of Home Affairs belatedly told Parliament that allegations about Derek Eakin's activities at Burntollet were "under consideration". A month later he gave some indication of the vigour with which enquiry was being prosecuted when he admitted to the House of Commons that no statement had ever been taken from this man. At the time of writing Derek Eakin is, as far as can be discovered, still a member of the special constabulary. Eakin has several brothers, and he did not specify which of these had been present at Burntollet. But one of his siblings, Samuel D. Eakin, of Lodge Road, Coleraine, wrote a detailed letter to the Belfast Telegraph which was published on January 13th. Explaining his position he tells: "I, as a Protestant observer saw the happenings of January 3rd and the episodes of the 4th and 5th." The communication goes to elaborate a curious mixture of vituperation and sentimental plea:
"How partial or biased can the news reporters of a democratic country get? In an effort to display their democracy the daily newspapers and television companies have bent too far back, and the knife-edge of impartiality has been broken in favour of an organisation known as the People's Democracy.Mr. Eakin strenuously denied that he was present at Burntollet on January 4th, or in Derry later that day, or on the following day. So it is rather difficult to identify the distressing incidents to which he referred in his opening paragraph. But, in his pious endeavour to restore peace by influencing the Orange Order and other organisations to policies of non-violence and Christian co-operation, he is well equipped. A member of the Orange Order, he served as a special constable for more than fourteen years. And Samuel Leslie, whose activities have been described in various chapters, has a record of police service that attains special significance in light of subsequent events. For six years he was a member of the force until his resignation in March 1967. Then, on January 6th, 1969, two days after his involvement in Burntollet, Leslie re-enrolled as a constable. He is, at the present time, a serving member of the Tullintrain Platoon.
If this account strains credulity, the writers advise a period of quiet before digesting the next incident. Earlier we have told how Andrew McLean was arrested on January 4th, on the insistance of a newsman who identified him as the stone-thrower who smashed the windscreen of his car. The sergeant who took McLean into custody testified that this young man carried a stone in his pocket. On January 6th, 1969, two days after his arrest on suspicion of making attack on a passing motor car, Andrew McLean formally attested as a special constable. He still holds this rank.
As the march set out along the direct road to Burntollet, Noel Leslie was the first man to appear in the roadside fields wearing the white identifying armband soon recognised as standard garb of the attackers, and waving to semaphore the marchers' approach to those ahead. On the very next day he would be entitled to boast six years of uninterrupted service as a constable in the Tullintrain Platoon. Civil Rights investigators talked with him, and read the gist of the paragraphs describing his activity. He would say nothing at all. Told that statements and research indicated how he played a key role in the attack, he refused to confirm or deny. Asked whether he would like any comment or qualification to be recorded, he terminated the conversation without the customary civilities.
Sammy Cooke, who led a stout, destructive band of quarrymen in the next field, and in subsequent forays, has also served as a constable. Investigators called to speak with him at William Leslie's sandpits, where he works alongside other attackers who were clearly identified in photographs. A very few questions inspired him to a repetition of the violence displayed at Burntollet. He caught one of his visitors by the throat, ripped film from the camera of another, and, among other pieces of vigorous advice, said that any publication of facts about the Burntollet attack would mean the killing of the writers. Pressed to confirm or deny that the piles of stones in fields adjacent to the roadway had been ferried from the quarryworks, he declared his intention of achieving murder there and then. "The sandpits will never show sign of your remains," he declared.
On May 21st, the Minister of Home Affairs declared that there was no police evidence that Sammy Cooke had been present at Burntollet. On an earlier date he declared that police officers had examined all available photographs showing the attack. Few individuals appear with greater clarity, and in a greater number of readily-available pictures, than sometime-constable Sammy Cooke. Faced with a clear depiction of this stout young man wielding a formidable cudgel, Sergeant Jones of Claudy explained that he "couldn't say it was him or not, for I don't know what he looks like". He agreed that he had given the answer that Cooke was not known to have been there, and to a series of similar questions dealing with other individuals. He agreed that he gave such replies without making the slightest enquiry. "I was told by Limavady police station just to tell if I had any definite evidence myself. If there was none, I was to do nothing more."
A footnote to the sandpit visit: investigators continued to check how the stones had been supplied. Later the same day they visited Alisdair Leslie, the man generally in charge of the pits. At first he insisted that all his men had been hard at work that Saturday morning, but varied this story on learning of the photographs. "They're just the kind of fellows I'd expect to find there," he capitulated amiably. Had the stones been brought by his men in his lorries from his gravel pit?
"I have no responsibility for what happens during the night. Anyone could have taken stones from that open pit. I certainly haven't been told about it."Standing in the field just before the junction where the ambush was planned was David Simpson, plasterer, of Moneymore. This loyal man had travelled more than thirty miles to arrive at a venue of which the police later denied all knowledge. From the ready piles of rocks he delivered a succession of stones into the crowd. And under his other arm, he held a cudgel ready for use. This man served as a special constable for more than five years.
When the first ranks of the march passed level with Scribetree Lane, and the frontal groups of riot police had passed, a more-than-middle-aged man in a pixy-style, knitted cap hurled missile after missile into the approaching ranks of demonstrators. Willie McGuinness, of Gulf Cottages, Killaloo. can boast of further loyal service; for nearly twenty-four years he held the rank of special constable.
The main body round the lane mouth, where the attackers issued out, was composed of members and past members of the constabulary. An example is Ronnie McBeth, of Greenmount Gardens, Claudy. At one stage the Minister of Home Affairs declared to Parliament that this man had never attested as a constable in the area. This statement was not true. McBeth served as a full member of the constabulary in Claudy over a period of years. He had been recruited to regular duties after a period of special service.
And, as already described, down by the banks of the River Faughan, groups of men, well prepared and armed, stoned and beat the marchers in the field. Readers may recall descriptions of some activity by Kenneth Moore. This young man wielded his baton with new authority. He had achieved the rank of constable just three days previously, on January 1st, as the People's Democracy march left Belfast. Close beside him, wearing a black hat and overcoat, stood Davy Cooke, of Alan Park, Donemana. This man devotes his ordinary working hours to the meritorious task of driving injured people by ambulance to Altragelvin Hospital. On this particular busman's holiday, the cudgel wielded by him suggests he was recruiting colleagues for his fellow ambulance drivers. He became a special constable in June 1964. Among the same group, wielding a three foot long ring spanner over a young girl lying on the ground, is John Cooke, of Legahurry, who served for five years as a constable. Geddis Fulton, who batoned down a succession of marchers, has been a constable for more than fourteen years and is currently a serving member with the rank of sergeant in the Bovevah Platoon.
In all, how many people, how many policemen, took part in the Burntollet attack? In making assessment, Civil Rights investigators have collected and examined more than a thousand photographs and extracts from film. They have sought statements from local people who witnessed the attacks. They have circulated questionnaires and photographs. And they have sought the co-operation of police and government authorities. The former have been hostile and deceptive. The Ministry of Home Affairs, in giving answer to parliamentary questions, has, through incompetence or a desire to obfuscate, caused nearly as much confusion as it has cleared.
Finally, and most important, investigators have called on people supposedly identified as attackers to seek their reactions and views. This particular source of information has great value as it allows identification to be made with certainty and gives to the individuals involved full opportunity of denying participation or explaining the reasons for their presence.
Unfortunately, a number of factors have made direct approach to each individual impracticable. And so the information contained in this book is not complete. The writers could, for example, continue to list name after name of individuals present at Burutollet. They can say, for example, that special Constable Alwyn Evans was present, but denies participation in attack. They can say that a William Thomas Riddles, one of two men of the same name living in Ardground, attested as a special constable in 1964, and declares that he was "some two hundred and fifty yards from the bridge on that date".
But what is the overall conclusion? We can name individual after individual, but the sum of our researches indicate that about three hundred and twenty people took part in the attack. Of these we have identified two hundred and fifty-seven. Nearly a hundred have records of service with the constabulary. And these people uniformly appear to have had direction and control of the attack.
Having set out these findings, it may be useful to tell something about the nature of the special constabulary. In England, the term may conjure up a half-comic figure suggesting memories of local defence corps antics. The position of these officers is quite different in Northern Ireland. They were first recruited in 1920, mainly from the then illegal Ulster Volunteer Force. Officially, the force was established in order to supplement the regular police. In 1967, when commentators believed that a period of political quiet had come to Northern Ireland, the Constabulary Gazette published, under the title Guns In Ulster, a 35,000-word account detailing development of the special constabulary in a number of contingent local areas. This was written by Wallace Clark, who has served with the special constabulary for more than twenty years. His peculiar inside knowledge, however, derives from his close family connection with the force, as a member of the Clark family, to which the Prime Minister also belongs.
Guns In Ulster tells how the local platoons are recruited, organised and operated. Supposed, in theory, to work on basis of county areas, and in conjunction with the regular police force, the local groups operate as special armed militias with a substantial degree of autonomy. At an early stage these forces were used primarily to protect the mills and other properties of substantial Protestant manufacturers, and a great number of the constables were recruited from among employees of these family firms. Later, in the 1920s, when the state of Northern Ireland was subject to external and internal pressures, the "specials" groups were used as a counter-terrorist forces, recruiting unwilling Catholic labour at gunpoint, and carrying out reprisals which included extra-judicial executions. The rather eccentric recruitment policy of the earlier times was expressed by Henry Clark, a relative of the present Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, in these terms: "I need men, and the younger and wilder they are, the better."
Presumably, the recruitment criteria adopted nowadays are more cautiously defined. But some necessary qualifications are constant. The force is wholly sectarian. Catholics are not offered the useful additional income that has been made available as a kind of supplementary benefit to members of selected families given position in the force. The exact political complexion of the organisation is well explained in a chapter dealing with the contemporary history of the Orange Order written by Brother the Rev. S. E. Long, A.L.C.D., Worshipful Master of Loyal Orange Lodge of Research No. 1980, and Deputy Grand Chaplain of Ireland:
"The gallantry and devotion to duty of the U.S.C. are a byword among those who can appreciate these things, as they have been an insurance for the welfare of the Province.From these quotes, it would appear that the close liaison between the two police forces engendered by common training programmes and shared patrol duties is strengthened by another factor: speedy transition from special to regular police status. In this respect Brother Long probably minimises the connection. The special constabulary is not only a predominantly Orange Order institution, membership is virtually confined to members of traditional Order families. And the impact that this has on the regular police force is immense. In reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister of Home Affairs stated on June 11th, 1969: "There are eight hundred and nine members of the Royal Ulster Special Constabulary. . . who have become members of the regular police force." A supplementary question asked whether applicants for membership of the R.U.C. have to take some examination, but applicants from among the ranks of the special constabulary have to take no test whatever. No coherent reply was forthcoming.
The full significance of the foregoing may be appreciated against the background knowledge that the Royal Ulster Constabulary consists of about three thousand men, and also in light of the consideration that every endeavour is made to obtain recruits at an age before they would ordinarily be considered eligible for membership of the special constabulary. So it appears that at least a quarter of the force must belong to the anti-Catholic Orange Order, and probably the real percentage would be a substantial majority of the entire force.
Some interesting examples of this process of promotion from special to full-time constable were thrown up in course of investigation. That of Ronnie McBeth has already been cited. Two young special constables, one from Killaloo, one from Bovevah, were recruited to perform full-time regular duty on January 6th, as a direct consequence of the disturbances. But their names are not cited here because the evidence is wholly their own. Off duty they have been known to boast of the beatings they meted out to student marchers. In an atmosphere where heroic ballads citing the bravery of the attackers at Burntollet are already becoming part of the Orange repertory, it is dangerous to accept the unvarnished word of an individual that he played a manly part in the Burntollet attack. So the names of these ambitious constables must be withheld, pending corroboration. One further example: repeated complaint has been made how Constable Jackson, then of Dungiven Police Station, assaulted marchers. This man became a recruit to the forces of law and order by joining as a special constable in 1959.
All this leads on to the role of the regular constabulary in the planning and carrying out of the attack. A number of points must be considered.
One: A multiplicity of witnesses, including several bus-loads of people who came to meet the march, tell how senior policemen were seen with Major Bunting and with groups of armed men at and around Burntollet before the attack. One clear account tells:
"On Saturday, January 4th, 1969, 1, Ivan Barr, of 23 Iona Villas, Strabane, accompanied by four other men, travelled by car from Strabane with the intention of joining up with the P.D. Civil Rights March on the Derry side of Claudy. We travelled via Burntollet. While passing through that area we observed a gathering of men on the roadside, several of them had pieces of white cloth tied around their arms. There seemed to be some kind of meeting going on, and two of the men who accompanied me in the car stated that they recognised Major Bunting talking to the men gathered on the roadside. There was also a head constable and several constables of the R.U.C. standing on the road watching these men. We observed this gathering at the very least one hour before the actual ambush took place."In addition, there are numerous statements indicating that a number of police tenders were already parked at Burntollet Bridge while the march was still at Cumber Church, nearly a mile away. One man from the locality went to Burntollet Bridge before the attack. He has made this statement:
"At 10.45 a.m. there were three police tenders on the bridge, and squads of men standing down the Ardmore Road. There was a crowd of armed men standing under the hedge up Scribetree Lane. Some of these were carrying sacks of stones from the lane into the field. The sacks were big enough to need two people to carry them.Two: Even if the last statement was not available, it is very difficult to see that the piling of stones in the roadside fields could have taken place unnoticed by vigilant or even by casual road patrols. This impression is reinforced by examination of the terrain; individuals moving in these fields can be distinctly seen from four overlooking roadways and, according to local evidence, distributors worked over a period of three hours and were seen by casual passers on the main roadway.
Three: The number of potential stone-throwers accumulating in the field was a substantial multiple of that cited by District Inspector Harrison when speaking to the marchers. This conversation took place just minutes after County Inspector Kerr had come back to report on the situation ahead. It is difficult to see that a man of Kerr's experience would be so much in error.
Four: Many officers carried two-way radio equipment. Clearly, those protecting the march had access to information that cudgel-carrying groups were gathered on both sides of the road. Speaking on the last two points, Michael Farrell reports:
"When County Inspector Kerr returned, I consulted with him, District Inspector Harrison, and another police officer. The county inspector confirmed that there was a crowd of about fifty some distance ahead, but did not indicate that any of these people were on the roadside, that they were armed, or that they had prepared piles of stones ready. I consulted the marchers about whether they were prepared to continue and face the possibility of some random stone-throwing. They indicated that they were, and I communicated this to the police officers. The officers did not indicate that my description of the possibility of stone-throwing was in any way an underestimate."Five: At Cumber Church, the police made no suggestion that the march should be re-routed. At every other stopping point, when the police had evidence, or claimed to have evidence, of the existence of even the smallest hostile crowd, they imposed, by force of law, an obligation to reroute. Alternative routes from the Cumber area to Derry could have been taken without great difficulty.
Six: As the march set out from Cumber Church, the police escort, for the first time in the course of the march, donned helmets and protective clothing. This seems to indicate that the senior police officers had good reason to fear a substantial attack, but communicated this only to their own men.
Seven: The marchers were advised to take a position on the roadway which, while it afforded almost no real protection, concealed the magnitude of the attack and masked the presence and identity of attackers. The position of the march also meant that no body of policemen was interposed between the attackers and the marchers, who were delivered direct to the armed men in Scribetree Lane.
Eight: District Inspector Harrison spoke of random stone-throwing from a site three hundred yards ahead. Policemen are well accustomed to gauging distance: these estimates are part of the most routine pieces of evidence given by junior constables in traffic accident cases. The discrepancy between Harrison's estimate and the distance to Burntollet Bridge, eleven hundred yards away, could perhaps be explained by a wholly atypical ignorance. Others have ascribed it to a desire to lull the marchers into false feeling of security, or see it as a device to allow Harrison say he had warned the marchers, without placing him in the difficult position of explaining how he knew the precise location of the attack.
Nine: According to the Minister of Home Affairs, District Inspector Harrison had direction of mobile patrols along the Ballyarton, Legahurry and Ardmore roads that morning. These cars are capable of radio contact with their director of operations. Witnesses who stood along these roadways have been able to give the clearest account of the disposition and movement of the attackers. It seems unlikely that trained policemen on patrol would achieve less by way of observation.
The roads identified in the last paragraph are of a deserted, country sort. That morning, the Ballyarton road, midway between the mountain top and Burntollet, was lined by the parked cars of attackers. In answer to a Parliamentary question, the Minister has told that: "The mobile patrols did not note the registered numbers of (these) cars." It is a matter for some surprise that this time-honoured policeman's method of establishing facts and identifying vehicles found in unexpected positions was wholly abandoned for the morning of January 4th.
One further indication: when Civil Rights investigators first examined maps of the area, they sought out vantage points from where they could assess the overall scene, and obtain most comprehensive photographs. The strategic spot chosen was on an upper mountain route, the Legahurry road. Later evidence showed that a brown Vauxhall car, registration number 8111 FZ, pulled up at this precise place sometime before the attack. Four men watched all that was being planned and all that happened before driving almost in convoy with the attackers along the back road towards Derry. This is a police vehicle.
Ten: Following Burntollet, the police officers gave no warning of the forthcoming attack at Irish Street. Much the same arguments about visible preparations, collection of weapons, and marshalling of groups can be urged. And just down the route, at Spencer Road, the police had been told by telephone of what would happen if attackers were not cleared. And a senior officer serving in the area agrees it was an obvious danger spot. Not only did they fail to take fundamental precautions; they held the march in the area clearly most punitive to the demonstrators, while a clearway over the bridge was open to the procession.
Eleven: At various points along the march route, photographers retained by the police were present to record possible disturbances. A series of parliamentary questions elicited the following information. No police photographers were available as the march left Claudy. None accompanied the demonstration past Gulf Cottages, where many local people expected trouble. Nor did any appear at Cumber Crossroads, where the march was held for half an hour. They were not on duty on the last stretch of the approach road into Derry nor at Irish Street, nor Spencer Road. But three police photographers arrived by private car at Burntollet Bridge around eleven o'clock. According to the Minister of Home Affairs, these men arrived at that destination, and at that time as a result of oral instructions given by police headquarters. To date it has not been possible to ascertain what kind of film they took; but there are some grounds for believing that the purpose of the exercise was to photograph policemen helping injured parties after the attack was over. And it does seem that this final film was not circulated to police stations in the locality. Sergeant Jones of Claudy expressed amazement when asked: he had not heard of any police photographers being used.
Twelve: Police from stations in Claudy, Dungiven, Limavady, Donemana, and Derry, should have had no difficulty in recognising attackers. In some cases the latter came from special constabulary platoons where the regular constables had served before attaining full-time status. And, in a number of instances, the attackers were close relatives of members of the "protecting" police force.
Some of these points may be capable of explanations that have not occurred to researchers, but little help has been offered by police officers. Chief Constable Kerr Patterson, who was in charge of the task force sent to sweep the stone-throwers from the fields, was asked to explain his failure. Well, he arrived only a few minutes before the start of the operations, and was not told exactly what he was meant to do in the field. Why did he engage in smiling conversation with Sammy Cooke and the armed quarrymen, and then let them proceed fully armed? Patterson was most worried that he had been photographed smiling while on duty. He had, at that moment, just noticed a district inspector on the road below and was grinning a cheerful greeting. He did not disarm the men because "he had no reason to think they would use the sticks". Why did he not forewarn the police and the marchers of the crowd waiting to attack in Scribetree Lane? A hedge obscured his view; he did not know that people waited there, nor did he realise that the natural result of his endeavours was to move the throwers gently onwards and concentrate the attack at Scribetree Lane.
These explanations are quite untenable. The simplest experiment shows that a man walking down Scribetree Lane is visible to any sighted person holding a position on the higher ground, for a distance of at least twenty feet before he reaches the road. This twenty foot space was packed with armed humanity which Patterson supposedly failed to perceive through or above shrubbery stripped bare by January weather.
In addition to the points already listed, a number of details seem to require some little explanation. In answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister of Home Affairs told of one hundred and thirty-three officers on duty round Burntollet. This figure does not seem to include a substantial number of regular policemen wearing plain clothes who were in the vicinity. One serving constable, dressed in plain clothes and partly disguised, was seen carrying an iron bar and entering a car on the Ardmore Road after the Burntollet attack.
Preparing material for this book, investigators gained some insight into the thinking of the local police force. On Tuesday, May 27th, a group visited the village of Claudy, to take photographs of buildings and individuals connected with the march. The photographer was accosted by Sergeant Jones, summoned into a police Land-Rover and quizzed about his presence and intentions. Taking photographs in Claudy was a breach of the peace, the officer declared. To lend some force to this suggestion, a few carloads of the original Burntollet attackers coincidentally arrived in town at this point, and the sergeant reinforced his strong suggestion that it was time for the group to leave.
Next morning, the investigators made an unscheduled call on Mr. Jones at Claudy Police Station. He did not seem able to explain his behaviour of the previous night except by blurting out repeatedly that he was an honest and straightforward man. "I'm not in the pocket of the Orange Lodges," he insisted, a suggestion the callers had not thought to make. Asked why no action had been taken locally against the Burntollet attackers, he complained that he was boycotted by all sections of opinion. The Catholics suspected him of complicity in the attack at Burntollet. The Protestants feared that he would try to find out what had happened. Police headquarters had given him little information. The very few photographs of the attack he had received came from newspapers and lacked sufficient definition to allow recognition of the people in them.
The interviewers were able to remedy this shortcoming, and Jones exclaimed over photograph after photograph he had never seen before. "You've found out a great deal more than we have," he declared, as he identified a succession of local people. In the course of this talk alarming discrepancies became obvious between what Sergeant Jones knew, and what the Minister of Home Affairs had told the House of Commons. Each question involving an individual from Claudy was sent, through the main police station in Limavady, to Sergeant Jones, who relayed his replies through the same channels. First, Jones claimed that he had not seen the photographic evidence. The Minister had indicated that all available pictures had been fully examined. Second, Jones had given quite different answers to parliamentary questions which were sent to him from the Limavady District Police Station, than those which the Minister eventually presented to Parliament. He spoke freely of a number of families in Irwin Crescent who were, he agreed, deeply involved in the attack. "Hooligans and ruffians," he called them. Then he went on to give further detailed examples of their other disruptive and wholly criminal activities. When the conversation moved to deal with the local planners of the attack, the landowners and the businessmen, a reticence became noticeable. But he indicated that he had supplied his superior officers with sufficient information to implicate a number of attackers.
Having won the confidence of his visitors, Jones asked whether it would not be possible for them to publish a book which might restore public faith in the impartiality of the police. The callers explained that they would find this difficult, and outlined the various queries about police behaviour listed earlier in this chapter. As a final example they told how one of their informants had listened to police broadcasts on January 4th. This man reported that a constable, speaking through to Claudy Police Station thirty minutes or so before the march arrived at Burntollet, had told that Thomas Gormley, the Nationalist Member of Parliament, had just passed up the Ardmore Road. The policeman then communicated his fear that Gormley might have "caught on". What could that possibly mean?
"It's not quite accurate," said Jones, in some excitement. "I know, for I was the man receiving the message. He said that Tom Gormley had gone down the Ardmore Road and he might be recognised, and that meant he might be suspected by the fellows with the clubs - and get into trouble."
You mean that you knew of groups with clubs gathering in the Ardmore Road area before the march arrived?This road joins the main Claudy-Derry road. It was lined with attackers, and with attackers' cars, ready for the next stage of their journey to intercept the march as it came to the city. By judicious use of Sergeant Jones' formula it would be possible to say that the greater part of the Burntollet attack took place in the Ardmore area. The foregoing account is not intended to suggest that Constable Crawford was in any way involved in clandestine activity. But it does indicate a covert attitude on the part of his superiors that may have reasonable explanation, yet rouses suspicion, and makes establishment of facts near impossible.
Finally, who was responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks? From the outset, marchers and outside commentators, including newspapers, identified one man as primarily responsible - Major Ronald Bunting. Their belief that he inspired, arranged and supervised all hindrances and attacks is reflected again and again in all those statements which speak of assailants as "Buntingites" or as "Paisleyites", the latter term being used to refer to the Rev. Ian Paisley, the spiritual adviser of the Loyal Citizens of Ulster.
The writers believe this view to be quite wrong. It is true that Bunting, through the medium of his largely-imaginary organisations, made public call for harassment of the march by all means allowed by law. In this sense he must have given impetus to much that followed. And he, no modest man, quickly assumed the role of spokesman each time a hostile group gathered to oppose the march. Further, his idea of what was within the law took no cognisance of a number of clear offences, riot, route, behaviour likely to cause breach of the peace, and so on. And fortunately for him, the police and government took the same lenient view of the law.
But he did not organise the attack at Burntollet. And he had but little part in its direction. Naturally, quite a number of attackers looked to him for some form of leadership, and sought his advice when trouble started. But the situation of the ambush and the nature of the attack was not within his control. Indeed, his curious advice, given in the Guildhall on Friday night, that his followers should arm themselves with luncheon boxes, probably indicates his own plan-to block the route for the whole day and just prevent the progress of the march. One local man, fully privy to decisions and attitudes of the organised Orange groups in the area, spoke in a vein echoed by many others:
"We need no outsider from Belfast to come here and tell us what to do. We have our own traditions in these parts. We know our own people and our own leaders. There are men round this town of Limavady who have more influence with the people than Bunting could ever hope."Others interviewed showed clear amusement when speaking of the fact that Bunting was convicted and fined for taking part in the attack. They made no secret of their opinion that he was an acceptable Patsy, the Irish equivalent of the American fall-guy who is used to divert the law's attention from those really responsible.
The opinion of one shrewd local observer is worth quoting:
"The organisers were the same old crowd who always run this area. The big farmers, the large employers, the local Orange bosses, who gave the word that their boys should turn out for attack. Bunting could never have squared or frightened off the police force in the way these people did. Nor could any disorganised rabble, such as the police pretend, have operated this disciplined military attack. Notice how well-organised they were. Not one hot-head in three hundred fired a gun. Sticks and stones, beatings and bashings were the orders of the day. And from the outset, they were confident no police action would be taken."The last remark may seem outrageous. Consider, then, the statement made by a man who lives quite close to Burntollet:
"About ten o'clock I came out of the gates with another man and walked down to the bridge. A group with white armbands had gathered. One was handing out sticks. This fellow said to us, 'Are you here to help boys?' I asked what help was needed, and was told the Civil Rights march was on its way. So I said I thought the police would be able to manage them. I remember well exactly what he replied, 'The police are staying out of it today. We can welt the hell out of them with no interference.' Later I learned who this man was."The individual identified is a member of the Special Constabulary.
Other statements in similar vein have been made. One man who came to join the march claims he was offered a stick by a policeman. Two others tell how, mistaken for attackers, they were directed into the field, and went there, spending the next few minutes in terror, right among the attackers. These people were advised by a policeman, who did not realise that they were there in error. "Get a on white handkerchief or something, or you'll get a broken skull from your own side."
The writers of this book are well persuaded of the unreliability of many statements made to them. They have been reinforced in scepticism by discrepancies in identifications, and internal contradictions in accounts. From the mass of information, they have tried to distill a composite picture that takes account of all that they have learned. Here are their conclusions:
The attack was organised locally by representatives of the Orange order and the Special Constabulary, in close collaboration with some members, at least, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It may well be that local branches of the clandestine organisation known as the Ulster Volunteer force were involved. But the overlap of personnel between these organisations render such distinctions of purely academic significance.After the event, no real attempt was made to pursue those involved. Five people were prosecuted. These were victims largely irrelevant to the organisation of the onslaughts.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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