The case of four Derry men wrongly accused of murdering a British soldier in the 1970s has taken another bizarre twist with confirmation that all the original police interview notes are missing.
The ‘Derry 4’ - Gerry McGowan, Stephen Crumlish, Michael Toner and Gerry Kelly, from Creggan - were all aged 17 when they were charged with the murder of Lt. Stephen Andrew Kirby, 37 years ago.
Lt. Kirby, an officer in the Welch Fusiliers, was shot by an IRA sniper while on foot patrol in the Abercorn Road area on February 14, 1979. The four Derry teens fled across the border when released on bail accused of the murder. They remained on the run until the charges against them were dropped in 1998.
Their treatment by the RUC was investigated by the Police Ombudsman (PONI) and, in 2012, the matter was referred to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). Based on the Ombudsman’s report, the PPS decided to bring charges against two former RUC detectives. However, this prosecution later collapsed after no evidence was offered against the police officers.
It’s understood that, on Friday last, documents were submitted to the High Court in Belfast by representatives of the Chief Constable of the PSNI indicating that all original interview notes relating to the men’s detention at Strand Road Police Station in February, 1979 are missing.
Detailed information as to how exactly the notes went missing has not been provided by the police lawyers.
Patricia Coyle, solicitor for the ‘Derry 4’, says she has been seeking the release of these notes and other materials from the police since 2003.
Earlier this year,lawyers also lodged an application for the release of covert tape recordings of the interviews between the police and the four men which they believe were made by MI5 without the knowledge of the RUC.
Patricia Coyle said last night: “The fact that police representatives have now finally confirmed that the interview notes for all my four clients are missing renders our application for disclosure of any covert recordings of the interviews all the more compelling. Had the original interview notes been available, they may have been suitable for forensic testing. At this stage we do not know if the notes are inadvertently missing or have been subjected to deliberate destruction.”
Gerry McGowan, one of the Derry 4, said: “Given the history of our case, the fact that the interview notes are missing is shocking but not surprising. It is difficult to believe that the RUC, the PPS and the Police Ombudsman have not been able to source the original interview notes since our acquittal in 1998. It is appalling that we have had to wait 38 years to be told this.”
Paul O Connor, of the Pat Finucane Centre which has campaigned on behalf of the ‘Derry 4’, added: “We know from the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases how important original police interview notes are. It is deeply suspicious that they have gone missing in the ‘Derry 4’ case.”