‘We’ve had enough of the lies’ - say family of Derry man hit at close range by British army rubber bullet

SIT-DOWN... Street protests took place across Derry in the wake of Thomas Friel's death in May 1973.
SIT-DOWN... Street protests took place across Derry in the wake of Thomas Friel's death in May 1973.

The family of a young Derry man killed by a rubber bullet more than forty years ago says it’s had enough of the “lies.”

Thomas Friel, from Creggan, was aged just 21 when he was hit by a rubber bullet fired at close range by a British soldier in Creggan on May 18, 1973. He died in hospital four days later.

His family believe the emergence of declassified military documents about the use of the weapon has thrown new light on the case.

The documents were found by the Pat Finucane Centre at the public records office in London.

They show that British officials not only knew rubber bullets could be lethal but that the testing of the weapon had been rushed.

The North’s Attorney General, John Larkin QC, has now ordered a new inquiry into Thomas’ death.

Mr Larkin says the documents “represent potentially relevant material which could usefully be explored at the new inquest.”

The documents contain legal advice for the Ministry of Defence to seek a settlement over a Derry boy blinded by a rubber bullet in 1972.

Richard Moore was blinded at the age of 10 when a soldier fired a rubber bullet into his face.

One document, written in 1977, said a court case would expose the problems with the bullets and make it harder for the MoD to fight future cases involving rubber bullets.

The MoD later settled the case with the Moore family out of court for £68,000.

It’s understood the Attorney General has also considered a new pathology report, commissioned by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), that contradicts the finding of the original post-mortem which concluded it was unlikely Thomas Friel had died as a result of being struck by a rubber baton round.

John Larkin says the conclusions of the new report - which states Thomas could have been killed by a rubber bullet - “casts some doubt” on the finding of the original inquest.

Thomas’ family have welcomed the AG’s decision to order a new inquest. A spokesperson said: “We have had years of lies. After more than forty years, they must now accept that Thomas was killed by a rubber bullet. These documents show that the British Government knew how dangerous the rubber bullets were but were more concerned with the cover-up than the people killed.”

Paul O’Connor, of the PFC, added: “The use and lethality of rubber bullets is the sort of thematic issue that the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR), as proposed by Haass, could have examined. The documents uncovered by the PFC are only the tip of the iceberg. Is this what the DUP is afraid of?”