‘Derry 4’ are still waiting for justice

Three of the 'Derry 4' - from left are Gerry McGowan, Gerry Kelly and Michael Toner.
Three of the 'Derry 4' - from left are Gerry McGowan, Gerry Kelly and Michael Toner.
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Four Derry men who spent 20 years on the run after being wrongly accused of killing a British soldier say they are still waiting for justice.

In 1979, Gerry Kelly, Gerry McGowan, Michael Toner and Stephen Crumlish - all aged 17 - were charged with murdering a British soldier at Abercorn Road.

Lieutenant Stephen Kirby (22), of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, was shot dead at Wapping Lane on Valentine’s Day in 1979.

The four Derry teenagers say they all signed statements after being “brutalised” at Strand Road RUC Station.

Gerry Kelly says it quickly became obvious they were innocent when, after just weeks in Crumlin Road jail, they were granted bail - something that had never happened before in a ‘murder’ case.

In October 1980, the teenagers were brought to trial and were told their best case scenario was to plead guilty to a lesser charge and receive a reduced sentence.

Refusing to accept the plea bargain, they decided to skip bail and went on the run. As a result, says Gerry Kelly, the four men’s lives were “turned upside down - destroyed, to be truthful.”

It was in the late 1990s, after almost two decades, that the four men were formally acquitted - but, now, in 2014, they insist they are still waiting for justice.

Gerry Kelly says: “I want someone to finally say what happened to us was wrong and that it shouldn’t have happened. We were four totally innocent teenagers and, yet, they decided to steal our lives from us. I want to know why. I live with this every day. Is it too much to ask for justice?”

Paul O’Connor, of the Pat Finucane Centre, says it’s two years since the Police Ombudsman sent a file to the Prosecution Service on the case.

He says: “There is now no doubt that they were forced into signing false confessions in respect of the IRA murder of Stephen Kirby. The only outstanding issue is whether it can be proven which individual RUC interrogators were responsible for what amounts to criminal behaviour during the days and nights they were interrogated.

“If the Ombudsman’s investigation had not raised serious concerns, a file would not have been forwarded to the PPS and the PPS would not have taken two years to make a decision. Now it is time to resolve this case once and for all.

“The terrible dilemma for these four individuals is that they cannot have sight of the Ombudsman’s findings until the PPS has made a decision. This has left them in limbo and we would appeal to the PPS to finally make a decision.”