seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


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Death of the Quinn Brothers in Ballymoney

Three brothers, Jason, Richard and Mark Quinn, are killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in a firebomb attack on their home in Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on July 12, 1998. The crime is committed towards the end of the three-decade period known as “The Troubles.”

The Quinn family, consisting of mother Chrissie and sons Richard, Mark and Jason, live in the Carnany estate in the predominantly Protestant town of Ballymoney. The family is of a mixed religious background. Mother Chrissie is Roman Catholic from a mixed background and the boys’ father Jim Dillon is Catholic. After separating from her estranged husband, Chrissie rears the boys as Protestant “to avoid the hassle.” Chrissie lives with her Protestant partner Raymond Craig in Carnany which is predominately Protestant, reflecting the religious make-up of Ballymoney itself. The boys, aged 9, 10 and 11, attend a local state school and on the evening before their deaths had been helping to build the estate’s Eleventh Night loyalist bonfire. A fourth brother, Lee, is staying with his grandmother in Rasharkin at the time of the attack.

The killings take place at the height of the stand-off over the Orange Order march at Drumcree, which creates a tense atmosphere in various towns across Northern Ireland. In the weeks leading up to the fatal attack, the children’s mother expresses fear that she is not welcome in the area and that there is a possibility the family home might be attacked by loyalists. The Ballymoney Times reports a story the week of the deaths, stating that a resident of the Carnany estate had called in and was concerned about tension in the area adding something serious might happen “unless Catholic residents were left alone.”

The attack occurs at approximately 4:30 in the morning as the inhabitants of the house sleep. A car containing members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary organisation, arrive at the house and throw a petrol bomb through a window at the rear of the house. The petrol bomb is made from a whiskey bottle. The sounds of the boys’ shouting wakes their mother, who finds her bedroom full of smoke. Chrissie Quinn, Raymond Craig and family friend Christina Archibald escape the resulting fire with minor injuries. Chrissie believes the boys have escaped the fire as she is unable to locate them in the dense smoke before she jumps to safety from a first floor window. Two of the brother’s bodies are found in their mother’s bedroom and the other in another bedroom. Chrissie is taken to the hospital and released the next day after receiving minor injuries and shock in the attack.

One man, Garfield Gilmour, is found guilty of murdering the three brothers fifteen months later and is sentenced to life imprisonment after admitting that he had driven three other men to the house to commit the fatal petrol-bombing. Although Gilmour names the three alleged killers, they are never charged due to a lack of concrete evidence. Gilmour’s conviction for murder is reduced to manslaughter on appeal on June 5, 2000 and he is released six years later. Nine days after his release, his life sentence is replaced by a fixed prison sentence of 14 years.

(Pictured: The Quinn brothers. Left to right: Jason, Mark, Richard)