‘We want public innocence apology’

Billy McGreanery who was shot dead by a British soldier in Derry in September 1971.
Billy McGreanery who was shot dead by a British soldier in Derry in September 1971.

The family of a Derry man shot dead by the British Army in controversial circumstances more than 40 years ago says it wants a “full and proper” public admission of his innocence from the government.

William McGreanery (41) was shot dead at Laburnum Terrace on September 15, 1971, by a member of the Grenadier Guards firing from the army base at the former Essex factory site.

At the time, the British Army claimed he had been shot while pointing a rifle towards the sangar - a claim vehemently denied by eyewitnesses and his family.

Three years ago, a report from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) declared Mr McGreanery innocent and concluded that he “was not carrying a firearm he posed no threat to the soldiers”.

The report also revealed that, after the shooting, the head of the RUC in Derry recommended that the soldier who fired the fatal shot be prosecuted for murder. However, the request was overruled by the then Attorney General who said the soldier could not be prosecuted for murder because he was “acting in the course of his duty”. He made the ruling in December 1971, just six weeks before Bloody Sunday.

In September 2011, the McGreanery family received a letter from the Chief of General Staff of the British Army expressing deep regret, acknowledging the 41-year-old’s innocence and apologising for what happened.

Foyle MP Mark Durkan - who has secured time at Westminster to discuss Mr. McGreanery’s case - says the Derry man’s family want a “proper and proportionate parliamentary acknowledgement” of this apology and the established facts.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s Westminster Hall adjournment debate, Mr Durkan told the ‘Journal’: “With the support of The Pat Finucane Centre, Billy McGreanery’s family have campaigned effectively to have the truth about his death properly declared.

“The HET report fully vindicated his absolute innocence and exposed the British Army account against him. It also brought out the clear fact that, presented with an RUC officer’s recommendation for the prosecution of a soldier for murder, the then Attorney General connived with others to establish an immunity standard for British soldiers.

“On the back of the HET report, the family secured an official apology from the Chief of General Staff at the Ministry of Defence which the government have since called a private communication.

“Ministers have tried to take a clumsy line that, while the apology should be seen as “officially on behalf of the government”, they do not need to express it or address the issues involved on the parliamentary record.

“This obviously leaves the family with a very real sense that a full and proper admission is being withheld. They want a proper and proportionate parliamentary acknowledgement of the apology and the established facts.

“That is what this adjournment debate is aimed at securing. We will find out whether a Minister can now meet a test of honesty, decency and adequacy without equivocation.”