Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Ards La Mon survivors dismiss HET report as a 'whitewash'

Lily McDowell was seriously injured in the La Mon bombing

A KIRCUBBIN couple who survived the Provisional IRA bombing of the La Mon Hotel have demanded a review of the original RUC investigation into the attack that left 12 dead and 30 injured.

Billy and Lilly McDowell were part of a delegation that included victims, MLAs Michael Copeland and Jim Allister, and Ulster Human Rights Watch Chair Bertie Campbell who handed Secretary of State Theresa Villiers a 21-page report on the Historical Enquiries Team's investigation of the case last week.

In the aftermath of the February 1978 atrocity, the RUC released distressing images of the charred remains of the dead in an attempt to gain information.

Billy McDowell (73) told the Community Telegraph that the Secretary of State had been sympathetic, but that the delegation did not receive affirmation that a review would occur.

He said: "I told the story about what happened that night.

"Lilly was one of the worst to come out of that alive and Jim Mills was another.

"They both spent over three months in hospital . The Secretary of State was very sympathetic to what happened.

"We presented her with a dossier highlighting problems with the HET report.

"We're very dissatisfied – we think it's a whitewash. At least half of the document is witness statements and then it leads on to the investigation. We're now demanding a public enquiry."

Mr McDowell said he was an "ordinary six and seven eighths" – an everyman – and that without the help of the likes of Michael Copeland and Bertie Campbell that the victims of La Mon wouldn't have got this far.

He observed that on the other side of the political divide people were much better at gaining enquiries into State atrocities, such as the review into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

He added that it galled him to see people such as Martin McGuinness in power acting like "a diplomat" and that since he and his wife were in their 70s , that "if they wait another five years, we could not be around to see justice".

Mr Copeland, Ulster Unionist MLA for East Belfast, said: "Thirty-five years after the IRA murdered 12 Protestants at La Mon, survivors and families of the deceased continue their search for justice.

"I had the privilege of accompanying victims and survivors to a meeting which I had arranged with the Secretary of State. We spoke of our disappointment at the lack of depth and new information contained in the HET report and presented our response to the document.

"The Secretary of State undertook to study our response and to do her best to address the issues raised. I advised her we had presented a serious document and expected that it would be given serious consideration."

A spokesperson for the NIO said the Secretary of State was "very moved to hear first-hand about the trauma they have suffered over many years as a result of one of the most shocking and despicable terrorist atrocities in Northern Ireland's history. Representatives of the victims handed over a report highlighting their concerns arising from the HET review of the case.

"They asked the Secretary of State to give it serious consideration, which she agreed to do."

The PSNI declined to comment.

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