Plastic bullet victim’s family in witness appeal

Fifteen years old Paul Whitters pictured with his baby brother Aidan shortly before he was killed by a rubber bullet in Derry on April 15, 1981.
Fifteen years old Paul Whitters pictured with his baby brother Aidan shortly before he was killed by a rubber bullet in Derry on April 15, 1981.

The family of a Derry teenager killed by a plastic bullet fired by the RUC more than 35 years ago have issued a new appeal for witnesses.

Paul Whitters (15), from Belview Avenue in the city, was struck on the head by a plastic baton fired by an RUC officer during disturbances at Great James Street on April 15, 1981, at the height of the Long Kesh hunger strikes.

Helen Whitters.

Helen Whitters.

Paul (pictured right) was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital before being moved to the Royal Victoria in Belfast where he underwent surgery. He died on April 25, 10 days after he was shot.

In 2007, the office of the North’s Police Ombudsman stated that a number of RUC officers involved in the case acted in a manner which it considered to have been “disproportionate and wrong.”

The police watchodog also concluded that there was not a proper investigation into the circumstances of Paul’s death.

Paul’s family now want people who may have witnessed the 1981 incident to come forward. His mother, Helen, told the ‘Journal’: “We want to hear from anyone who knows anything that might shine some light on the circumstances surrounding Paul’s death.”

Mrs Whitters said her family had been left devastated by Paul’s death and was hopeful that any new information could bring them some “peace of mind.”

“Closure is not a word I like to use,” she added. “The loss of a son is not something you ever get over. When your child dies, part of you dies, too.”

Paul’s uncle, Tony Brown, added: “Paul’s death was never properly investigated. For example, Nuala O’Loan’s investigation found that a number of civilian witnesses had come forward at the time but that the RUC investigating officer had failed to take statements from them. Add to this a series of other flaws, all pinpointed by Nuala O’Loan, and you can see why it made a mockery of the inquest.”

Derry-based human rights group, the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), is supporting the family with the appeal. Director Paul O’Connor said. “No proper investigation was carried out into the death of Paul Whitters. The subsequent decision by the prosecution service and the findings of the Coroner cannot, therefore, be relied upon since both were based on a flawed and incomplete investigation.”

Anyone wishing to contact the Pat Finucane Centre can do so on Tel: (028) 71 268846 or via email on info@patfinucanecentre.org