Ministry of Defence apology to Derry family for 1971 murder

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The family of Derry man Billy McGreanery, who was murdered by the British Army 40 years ago this week, have received an apology from the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall for the brutal 1971 killing.

41-year-old William ‘Billy’ McGreanery, was shot dead by a member of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards while crossing the junction of Eastway, Lonemoor Road and Westland Street in Derry during the early hours of Wednesday, September 15, 1971. The soldier claimed he was armed and aiming at a nearby observation post.

The nephew and niece of Mr McGreanery, Billy McGreanery and Marjorie Roddy, have worked alongside the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry for a number of years, intent on clearing their uncle’s name.

They announced this week that they had received a letter from the British Army’s Chief of General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall, in response to their request for an official apology. Having studied last year’s HET report into Mr McGreanery’s death, General Wall said: “It is clear to me that such an apology is right and proper”.

“It is evident that the soldier who shot him [Mr McGreanery] was mistaken in his belief that he had a weapon and this error, tragically, resulted in the death of an innocent man. I have no doubt that, despite the passage of time, you and your family are still grieving over this loss. I would like to express my sorrow and regret for his death which, in the years since it occurred, has deprived you of an Uncle’s support and affection.”

The McGreanery family welcomed the letter from the Ministry of Defence.

Billy McGreanery, nephew, said: “We were delighted that he was exonerated last year, but this apology is the icing on the cake. We have taken it as far as we can now.

“Now we’re hoping that this will help other families in the same position to take heart, like the McGavigan family, and try to get answers. Hopefully this will prove to others that it’s worth pursuing, no matter how much time has passed.”

At the time in 1971, the soldier responsible for the murder claimed that Mr. McGreanery was aiming a rifle at the Bligh’s Lane army observation post. However, last year, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) found that Mr McGreanery “was not carrying a firearm and he posed no threat to the soldiers” when he was shot and killed.

It also emerged that the city’s top policeman at the time, Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, had recommended the soldier responsible be charged with murder.

Soldier ‘A’ was never prosecuted on the advice of the attorney general, who said “whether he acted wrongly or not, the soldier was at all times acting in the course of his duty”. According to the HET report, the soldier in question has since accepted that he made “a mistake, albeit an honest one.”

Marjorie Roddy, niece, added: “My father died a year and five months after his brother, Billy. There were only two of them in the family and so its a pity that those closest to him are not here to share this official apology and declaration of Billy’s innocence.

“My father would be really pleased - we continued the fight that he started,’ Marjorie says.

“I felt it was a personal responsibility,” Billy adds. “Although there is a drawback, in that you relive the past and its sore, it was worth it. When we got the opportunity seven years ago through the HET to continue the fight my father had started to get justice for Billy, we didn’t know if we would get anywhere.

“We wanted justice and we achieved that last year on June 10, when the HET found Billy was totally innocent. It has taken another year for the Ministry of Defence to acknowledge it. The case was unusual because at the time the RUC recommended that charges be brought against the soldier who killed our uncle, but the Attorney General, Sir Basil Kelly, decided against it.

“We learned later that he had made a deal with the MoD that no soldier on duty would ever be convicted of any crime - we have the minutes of the meeting in which it was discussed.

“That meeting took place in December, and one month later Bloody Sunday happened - so that decision in a way led into Bloody Sunday - it gave them the green light as they knew they wouldn’t be punished for crimes committed on duty.

“Had the soldier been charged in the aftermath of Billy’s murder, what happened afterwards in the city and the North could have taken a very different turn,” Billy said. “Especially if soldiers believed they could be charged with murder.”

Speaking of the official apology, Billy added: “This is what my father wanted. Obviously, he would have preferred justice to have been done, but too much time has passed and we will never achieve that now.

“We got the apology and the recognition. Billy was branded a gunman for the guts of 40 years, which is basically an insult to his memory. We have cleared his name.”

“Going it alone is not a good idea,” Billy says. “But with the support of the Pat Finucane Centre, the difference was like day and night and we finally got somewhere.”

Marjorie added: “There will be a memorial mass for Billy this Thursday, September 15, at 7.30pm at St. Eugene’s Cathedral. Prior to that, we will have a small gathering at 6.45pm at the plaque at the top of Westland Street where Billy was shot, and from there we will walk to the Cathedral for anniversary Mass.

“On Thursday evening, we are holding a special fundraising event at The Delacroix Bar for the Pat Finucane Centre.

“It’s our last thank you to them and we know they badly need funds and we want to help.”