seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Murder of Benedict Hughes

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 4.0Northern Ireland is plunged into a new crisis after Benedict Hughes, a Catholic, is shot dead on January 21, 1998 as he is getting into his car after finishing his work in a loyalist area of south Belfast. It is the latest murder aimed at wrecking the peace process and the eighth sectarian killing since Christmas.

Hughes, age 55, dies in a hail of bullets in Sandy Row shortly after 5:00 PM, as he is preparing to travel back to his Suffolk Crescent home in west Belfast. The father of three is shot at least five times in the neck and chest as he tries to get into his car which is parked in Utility Street off the Donegall Road. He is taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he later dies. The lone gunman makes off on foot in the direction of Felt Street.

The attack comes after the funeral of Fergal McCusker, a Catholic shot dead by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) just days earlier and ahead of the funerals of Catholic taxi driver Larry Brennan and prominent loyalist Jim Guiney held on January 22.

When forensic people arrive on the scene soon after the shooting, the area is packed with onlookers who believe the shot man is a Protestant.

As a recovery truck comes to remove Hughes’s car later that night, small groups of people are still watching the scene. The Rev. Richard Darmody, the rector of nearby St. Aidan’s Church in Sandy Row, who went to the scene thinking the victim was one of his parishioners, condemns the murder. “I’m shocked and horrified that the life of an innocent person has been taken and that another family has been plunged into grief and pain. I feel very concerned about where this is going to lead and the possibility of more lives being taken and more families being bereaved.”

There is no immediate admission of responsibility. However, the blame is placed firmly on loyalists, either the LVF, which has admitted being behind a series of recent killings, or the Ulster Freedom Fighters, which has remained silent but which is suspected by the security forces of having joined the killings.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) councillor Alex Attwood calls on mainstream loyalists to “clarify whether they are really on a ceasefire” because it is clear, he says, the LVF has received help from other loyalist groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) or the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

SDLP councillor Alastair McDonnell says the peace process is not in crisis. Hughes was “an innocent Catholic who was just trying to earn a living, who has no connections with any political or paramilitary grouping. If he had he wouldn’t have worked here.” He adds that there is a “small handful of evil people” who do not want to see peace.

Alliance spokesman Dr. Philip McGarry says there is “no excuse, no justification for causing pain to yet another family.”

(From: “Catholic shot dead leaving work in loyalist Sandy Row” by Louise McCall, The Irish Times, January 22, 1998)


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The Arrest of the Birmingham Six

the-birmingham-sixHugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Robert Hunter, Noel McIlkenny, William Power, and John Walker, known as the “Birmingham Six,” are arrested on November 22, 1974 in connection with pub bombings which took place earlier in the week.

The Birmingham pub bombings take place on November 21, 1974 and are attributed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Explosive devices are placed in two central Birmingham pubs, the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda and the Tavern in the Town in New Street. The resulting explosions, at 8:25 PM and 8:27 PM, collectively are the most injurious attacks in England since World War II. Twenty-one people are killed and 182 are injured. A third device, outside a bank in Hagley Road, fails to detonate.

Five of the six arrested are Belfast-born Roman Catholics, while John Walker is a Roman Catholic born in Derry. All six have lived in Birmingham since the 1960s. All the men except for Callaghan leave the city early on the evening of November 21 from New Street Station, shortly before the explosions. They are travelling to Belfast to attend the funeral of James McDade, a Provisional IRA member who had accidentally killed himself on November 14 when his bomb detonates prematurely while he is planting it at a telephone exchange in Coventry.

When they reach Heysham they and others are subject to a Special Branch stop and search. The men do not tell the police of the true purpose of their visit to Belfast, a fact that is later held against them. While the search is in progress the police are informed of the Birmingham bombings. The men agree to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.

On the morning of November 22, after the forensic tests and questioning at the hands of the Morecambe police, the men are transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit. Callaghan is taken into custody on the evening of November 22.

The Birmingham Six are charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions on May 12, 1975. The trial begins on June 9, 1975 at the Crown Court sitting at Lancaster Castle, before Justice Nigel Bridge and a jury. The jury finds the six men guilty of murder. On August 15, 1975, they are each sentenced to twenty-one life sentences.

On November 28, 1974, the Birmingham Six appear in court for a second time after they had been remanded into custody at HM Prison Winson Green, all showing bruising and other signs of ill-treatment. Fourteen prison officers are charged with assault in June 1975, but are ultimately acquitted. The Six bring a civil claim for damages against the West Midlands Police in 1977, but it is struck out on January 17, 1980 by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division).

In March 1976 the Birmingham Six’s first application for leave to appeal is dismissed by the Court of Appeal, presided over by John Widgery. Their second full appeal, in 1991, is allowed. New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, the successful attacks on both the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence causes the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals. The Court of Appeal states that in light of the fresh scientific evidence, the convictions are both unsafe and unsatisfactory. On March 14, 1991 the Birmingham Six are set free.

In 2001, a decade after their release, the six men are awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.