McDevitt family hope for justice 40 years on

Sammy McDevitt pictured at the spot in Fountain Street, Strabane, where his brother, Eamonn, was shot dead by British soldiers almost forty years ago. 1608JM50
Sammy McDevitt pictured at the spot in Fountain Street, Strabane, where his brother, Eamonn, was shot dead by British soldiers almost forty years ago. 1608JM50
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The brother of a disabled Strabane man killed forty years ago by the British Army says he is hopeful a new investigation will clear his brother’s name.

Sammy McDevitt (75) says it has “been a long road” for his family since his brother Eamonn was killed by the British Army on August 18, 1971.

The late Eamonn McDevitt, who was shot dead by British soldiers in Fountain Street, Strabane, almost 40 years ago. 1608JM52

The late Eamonn McDevitt, who was shot dead by British soldiers in Fountain Street, Strabane, almost 40 years ago. 1608JM52

Twenty-eight-year-old Eamonn McDevitt, who was deaf and mute, was gunned down at Fountain Street following an anti internment march in the town.

At the time the British Army claimed Eamonn was brandishing a pistol when he was shot.

The commander of the British Army Royal Marines unit in Strabane that day, Lieutenant Colonel Roger Ephraums, said “two or three” of his men had observed Mr McDevitt with a gun.

“He finally brandished this weapon and was coming up to the aim position against one of my soldiers at short range,” Colonel Ephraums said.

But scores of local people came forward to tell authorities not only was Eamonn unarmed but he was posing no threat.

Now his brother Sammy says he hopes a new investigation into the killing by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team will finally bring justice for Eamonn.

“We are to meet the HET again later this year but we hope that finally his name will be cleared.”

Mr McDevitt says both his parents “went to their graves without justice for Eamonn.”

“It hit them very hard,” he told the ‘Journal’ yesterday.

“It killed them in the end,” he says.

Mr McDevitt says he had tried to steer his younger brother away from the town on the day he was killed.

“I had been at work but met Eamonn on my way home. I spoke with him in sign language, tried to tell him to come home and not go into the town.

“But he was his own man and went on anyway,” his brother recalled.

A special commemoration event in Eamon’s honour will take place in Strabane this Thursday night, 40 years to the day Eamonn was killed.

Strabane Sinn Fein councillor Karina Carlin says the killing of Eamonn McDevitt remains one of the most harrowing events in the town’s history.

Now ahead of a special commemoration event Councillor Carlin recalled the events of forty years ago.

“On that fateful day, Eamonn had just left the home of family friends at Graveyard Road and made his way towards Fountain Street. There had been some minor stone throwing in the area following an earlier town centre protest about Internment which had been introduced just the previous week.

“Then without warning, a British Army marksman, knelt on one knee, took aim and fired a single shot from his rifle, killing Eamonn instantly. In the immediate aftermath the British Army propaganda machine went into full swing.

“Colonel Ephraums of the Royal Marine Commandos announcing to the world that two or three of his men has observed Eamonn with a gun said, ‘he finally brandished this weapon and was coming up to the aim position against one of my soldiers at short range.’”

Councillor Carlin says the local community have fully supported the McDevitt family’s campaign to have Eamonn exonerated.

“Eamonn’s brother Sammy has fought a long and frustrating campaign for justice and truth and people within the local community are determined to ensure that Eamonn’s death, which has had such a deep and lasting impact on this area, is marked on this the 40th anniversary and particularly to show solidarity and support for the McDevitt family in the campaign to exonerate Eamonn’s name from the tissue of lies that were put out by the British Army at the time to justify his killing.”

She urged as many people as possible to attend Thursday’s commemoration event at Fountain Street in Strabane.