Tributes have been paid to local man Jimmy Porter, the licensed radio amateur best known for taping the military and RUC radio traffic on Bloody Sunday, who died on Wednesday aged 92.
Campaigner John Kelly, whose brother Michael was one of 14 men murdered on January 30, 1972, told the ‘SUNDAY’ that the Bloody Sunday families were “very sad” to hear about Mr Porter’s passing and they wish to pass on their condolences to his family.
“We’ve always appreciated what Jimmy had contributed to the campaign over the years, especially through the army messages he recorded which become so vitally important to the inquiry’s evidence,” Mr Kelly said.
“He also had the foresight to safeguard the material by hiding it from the British Army after many raids on his home because he knew that this material could be used in the future - and he was proved right.”
Jimmy Porter’s love of amateur radio began when he discovered electronics aged 15, and he later become a leading radio ham and was also involved in Radio Free Derry. During the Troubles, Porter owned a television and radio shop at William Street and regularly listened in on security force radio communications after civil unrest erupted on the streets in the late 1960s.
His evidence to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in January 2002, when he was 81 years-old, proved controversial as his recordings, known since as ‘the Porter tapes’, did not contain the order for 1 Para to move into the Bogside - arousing debate over whether the order to proceed was ever given. Soldiers were, however, heard on the tapes reporting incoming fire, firing and claiming ‘hits’.
Porter was also called to attend the original Widgery inquiry in Coleraine on the very last day of its hearings, March 14, 1972. There he was taken to a private room where he was interviewed by a number of “very hostile” tribunal staff, who were joined by Lord Widgery and an army officer.
The Widgery inquiry had transcripts, but not actual tapes of the radio messages. Mr. Porter said that, when he offered copies of the tapes to Lord Widgery, chairman and sole member of the tribunal, the judge said: “I am tired of hearing about your tapes ad nauseam, and this inquiry is over”, or words to that effect.
Mr. Porter was not then called to give sworn evidence before Widgery. He later claimed that he was photographed by an army patrol and targeted often.
“It meant that every checkpoint I passed through I was arrested, brought to the nearest army post, searched and held for usually anything up to four or five hours - not only me, but my family and anyone who was in my car,” he told the Inquiry.
Soldiers searched his house on numerous occasions, and this treatment continued for five years, from 1972 to 1977. But during this period many army officers got to know him and became very friendly.
During discussions with army officers, Porter said that the topic of Bloody Sunday invariably came up, and the officers volunteered the information that the army’s encryption device was out of commission on Bloody Sunday.
Asked by Counsel to the Inquiry Christopher Clarke QC why he taped the transmissions, he said: “I realised that history was being made in Northern Ireland.”
“The Bloody Sunday families appreciate all he has done for us all over the years, and we thank him and his family for the support they have always shown us,” campaigner John Kelly added.
Mr Porter is pre-deceased by his wife, Dolly, and survived by his eight children.