Inquest hearing into death of 1973 rubber bullet victim

Thomas Friel was hit by a rubber bullet in Creggan in May 1973.
Thomas Friel was hit by a rubber bullet in Creggan in May 1973.

A preliminary hearing into the death of a Derry man hit by a rubber bullet 46 years ago has taken place in Belfast.

Thomas Friel (21) was shot in Creggan on May 18, 1973 after returning from a night out. He died four days later.

Justice Siobhan Keegan is currently holding a series of hearings to determine the “state of readiness” of a number of outstanding legacy inquests. She will then determine a timeline to get through them over the next five years.

The new inquest was ordered by the Attorney General back in 2014 after fresh documents were uncovered.

One of the documents reveals that the British Ministry of Defence knew that the bullets were more dangerous than had previously been admitted.

Another concluded that, in certain circumstances, this type of bullet converted into “a potentially lethal weapon”.

It’s understood the inquest will also examine a new pathology report, commissioned by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), that casts some doubt on the findings of the original inquest.

Speaking on behalf of the Friel family, Sara Duddy, of human rights advocacy and lobbying group, the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), said: “Five years ago, the Attorney General ordered a fresh inquest to examine the circumstances of Thomas’ death, persuaded by documents uncovered by the PFC that show the MoD knew that rubber bullets had the potential to kill but continued to use them on our streets.

“While the Friel family welcome this development, which may bring them closer to understanding how and why Thomas died, it is bittersweet. Members of Thomas’ family have sadly passed away while waiting on this inquest to commence, including Thomas’ sister, Margaret, who championed for justice for her brother for many years.”