The brother of a 20-year-old man shot dead by the British Army 43 years ago has embarked on a campaign to clear his name of any suggestion of wrong doing.
Robert McGuinness was shot in heavily disputed circumstances close his home at Brandywell Avenue on June 22, 1973.
The British Army contended that he had pointed a revolver at the open back doors of one of their vehicles before being shot by a soldier. Local residents always claimed however that Robert was unarmed and he was shot from the back door of a Saracen from a distance of no more than three yards. He died from his injuries four days later on June 26.
There was no trouble in the district at the time apart from some shouting at soldiers.
It was widely believed that Robert was shot in retaliation for the death of a bomb-disposal expert, Captain Barry Griffen on waste ground at Lecky Road two days earlier on June 20. The British officer was examining an explosives find when the material blew up.
In an apparent spiral of tit-for-tat killings, the IRA on the day Robert died,shot and killed 45-year-old Pakistani national Noor Baz Khan who was a caterer for the British Army at bases across the city.
An inquest into Robert’s killing held in November, 1973 according to his brother Tony McGuinness was very brief and simply recorded the death occured by misadventure.
A death by misadventure, as recorded by coroners and on death certificates and associated documents, is one that is primarily attributed to an accident which occurred due to a dangerous risk which was taken voluntarily.
In contrast, when a cause of death is listed as an accident rather than a misadventure, this implies no unreasonable wilful risk.
This of course leaves open the suggestion that Robert McGuinness was brandishing a revolver-something which his brother totally refutes.
Tony told the ‘Journal’: “Everyone I’ve spoken said he wasn’t even involved in shouting at the soldiers.
“He had been talking to his girlfriend, gone into the house which was only about 50 yards away and came back out to see what was going on.
“They shot him through the back and it shattered him inside.”
Robert McGuinness was the youngest in a family of several children.
Their father had already died and most of the siblings had left Ireland to seek work in England.
“He had been a soldier in the Irish Army but around that time left full-time service but enlisted in the Irish Army reserve. This allowed him scope to take leave and return home for a period to look after his mother who had been suffering from illness. He planned to rejoin the military service by next enlisting in the Irish Naval Service.
“He was a very nice fella, he was very popular, there was a lot of craic about him. He was known mainly by his nickname ‘Guinny’. He didn’t deserve what happened to him.
“He loved the Irish Army life. He had a very good bond with ny motherNelly-more so probably than the rest of us. He looked after her and spoiled her,” said Tony.
Asked what effect the killing had on his mother, Tony McGuinness continued: “She shut up after that. She was never the same woman. She had been very outgoing and would have always been out and going on bus runs. But, she stopped all that. It took a lot out of her.”
Recalling how he heard of the killing of his brother Tony said that he had recently been married and was living in Creggan.
“I just got a knock on the door. My mother was in no fit state to come and tell me. She didn’t know what was going on for a week,” he said.
A search of the local press archives relating to the time shows that very little was reported about the killing of Robert McGuinness.
Former SDLP leader, John Hume spoke to the family at the time and also gathered witness statements from people in the area. He later took his dossier to senior officials at the Northern Ireland Office with his conclusions that he was totally satisfied that Robert McGuinness was unarmed at the time he was shot.
MP for Foyle, Mark Durkan told the ‘Journal’ that he will conduct a search of Mr Hume’s archives to see if that dossier still exists.
He said: “I will back the McGuinness family in whatever way I can to help clear Robert’s name.”
His brother told the ‘Journal’: “I have always felt that he is a forgotten victim of Derry’s troubles.
“I am only getting into the position now to try and find out what happened. It is still very painful although it was a long time ago. He didn’t die by misadventure. He was deliberately shot in the back.
“ There is just me and one other sister left in my family. My recollection is that the inquest was very short.
“It just should not have happened.
“Those soldiers were supposed to be trained not to retaliate to anything. I placed on his headstone that he was murdered by British troops.
“I just want some kind of justice for him. I want to get his name cleared.
“I am not bitter. I am not concerned about putting someone in the dock but someone has to be held to account. I want to know why they picked on him.”
Tony McGuinness is now appealing for any witnesses to the incident in the early hours of Friday, June 22, 1973 to come forward.
Anyone with information they wish to bring forward can do so by contacting Eamon Sweeney at the ‘Derry Journal’ on 02871272207 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.