Families demand SoS Bradley opens files

Paul Whitters and Stephen McConomy who were both killed by plastic baton rounds
Paul Whitters and Stephen McConomy who were both killed by plastic baton rounds

The families of two Derry schoolboys who were killed by plastic baton rounds, have called on Karen Bradley to open files containing information relating to their deaths.

Helen Whitters, the mother of 15-years-old Paul, who was killed by a plastic bullet in April, 1981 and died 10 days later, penned an open letter to the secretary of state on the anniversary of his shooting.

A file relating to the death of Paul is held at the National Archives and will remain closed until January 1, 2059.

Other files relevant to those killed by plastic bullets, including Paul and 11-years-old Stephen McConomy, is classified until 2071.

Mrs. Whitters has called for these files to be opened.

“We are just ordinary people. Why is there a file about the death of my son, a 15-years-old schoolboy? I want to know what is in that file. Why should it remain classified for another 40 years? I am in my 70’s now, I will not be here in 40 years time and even my younger children and those who knew Paul may not be here.

She asked: “What has the British Government, the NIO, the RUC got to hide?”

Mrs Whitters said the British Government ‘does not have the right to withhold’ the information from her family.

“This hasn’t been easy for my family. When you lose a loved one from sickness or an accident it’s awful, but when you are still looking for answers 38 years later in many ways it makes it more difficult.

“Paul was a much loved child who was taken away from us. When he went, part of my life went as well. We don’t know what he could have achieved.”

The family of Stephen McConomy have also written to Karen Bradley ‘demanding’ that the files be opened.

Eleven-year-old Stephen was shot and killed by a plastic bullet, fired by a British soldier just yards from his home in the Bogside, one year after Paul in April, 1982.

Stephen’s brother Emmett met with Karen Bradley last month after she said killings carried out by security forces during the Troubles were not crimes, rather the actions of people “fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way.”

She later apologised for the comment.

Emmett said his family’s search for the truth is being hampered by the decision to close these files until 2059 and 2071.

“We are at a loss to understand why this is the case. This adds to the pain of our family and all families who are seeking the truth of what happen to our loved ones.”

He said he did not find Karen Bradley’s apology sincere and if ‘she really wants to show the families their path to justice is not being blocked, she would engage with us in a positive way and provide this information. She has the power to release these files.”

He added ‘this is not a request, this is a demand.”