Derry plastic bullet victim’s file to stay closed until 2084, say family

The family of a Derry schoolboy killed by a plastic bullet more than 40 years ago say a file relating to his death is to remain closed until 2084.

Paul Whitters (15) was shot in the head with a plastic bullet in April 1981.

The incident followed a day of rioting in Derry during the Long Kesh hunger strikes.

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Paul was throwing stones when he was shot by a police officer at Great James’ Street.

He survived for 10 days after being shot before a decision was made to remove him from life support.

In 2007, a Police Ombudsman’s report criticised a police investigation of the case.

Following a four-year investigation, Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan said the firing of the baton round was wrong and unjustifiable.

The Police Ombudsman also said no warning was given and it was fired at less than the permissible range of 20 metres.

The police had said the baton round was fired to prevent a lorry being hijacked, but the Police Ombudsman found no evidence of this or that the officer was in danger.

Paul Whitters’ sister, Emma, said it was her understanding that a file on the teenager’s death at the National Archives at Kew will not be released for another 62 years.

Emma says the file’s closure underscores the “culture of contempt” shown to her family over the years.

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Describing the process of trying to secure information on her brother’s death as “tortuous”, Emma says “each and every interaction” her family has had with state bodies over the past 40 years has only served to compound their trauma.

However, she insists she will continue to fight for truth and justice.

“It’s not a choice,” she said. “It’s a compulsion. It’s not something you can leave behind. You have to try to remain optimistic.”

This is a view shared by Paul Whitters’ uncle, Tony Brown, who says the family’s faith in the criminal justice system has been undermined.

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He added: “The Secretary of State is of the opinion that a ‘distorted narrative’ of the past has developed in relation to legacy issues. The Whitters family remain determined to correct the history of this shooting - it is not attempting to engage in a ‘distorted narrative’.

“The facts associated with the shooting remain in the public domain and after, in the Secretary of State’s words, “listening carefully”, the response of the State was to further restrict a file on the grounds of national security.

“The Secretary of State’s words in relation to reconciliation ring hollow given the restriction until 2084 and continue to add insult to injury.”

In response, a spokesperson for the NIO said: “This is simply not true - we are not further restricting this file and are exploring whether we can publicly release more information on the Paul Whitters case via the National Archives (TNA).

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“Last year, we assisted TNA with a FOI request by releasing a version of the file. Although that process was taken forward with good intent, we have listened to the concerns raised by the family about the level of material withheld.

“Our approach to legacy is about helping families uncover information about what happened to their loved ones during the Troubles, and that is exactly why we are reviewing whether we can release more on this case publicly.

“The Northern Ireland Office has already written to the family (via the Pat Finucane Centre) to notify them of this review process and will be writing again shortly to update them.”