Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Man quizzed by officers investigating 1976 murder is released

A 55-year-old man arrested by police investigating a murder 36 years ago has been released.

He had been detained by officers from the PSNI’s Serious Crime Branch in south Belfast yesterday.

A spokesman for the PSNI confirmed last night he had been released pending a report to the Public Prosecution Service.

William Palmer, a Protestant, died in hospital on June 11, 1976 — three days after he was gunned down at his home on Milltown Road, Derriaghy, on the outskirts of south Belfast.

The 50-year-old storeman had been hit in the arm and stomach after his attacker burst into the lounge of his property.

Contemporaneous newspaper reports claimed the lone gunman ran off, and jumped into a gold Hillman Avenger which contained two other men.

The vehicle had been hijacked earlier at Monagh Road in Belfast’s Turf Lodge district and was recovered at Shaw’s Road.

At the time, the Royal Ulster Constabulary said the owner of the stolen car had been held for three hours after the shooting with a hood over his head, but was released unharmed.

In a statement released last night, a spokeswoman for the PSNI said the arrested man had been arrested on suspicion of murder, possession of a firearm and membership of the IRA.

He was taken to the Serious Crime Suite at Antrim police station for questioning before his release last night.

The year 1976 was among one of the worst of the Troubles.

It was second only to 1972 in terms of casualties and included atrocities such as the Kingsmills massacre when the IRA killed 10 Protestant workmen near Bessbrook, Co Armagh.

The shootings sparked a security crisis and prompted the Government to deploy additional troops including, for the first time the SAS, onto the streets.

The loyalist murder of three members of the same family John (24), Brian (22) and Anthony (17) Reavey from Whitecross in Co Armagh occurred in January 1976.

The Constitutional Convention was deemed a failure and the numbers and role of the RUC and UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment) were being increased to take over from the role of the military.

Following a summer of violence which saw three children killed by a careering car driven by an IRA gunman who had been shot by soldiers, the Peace People movement was established.

Meanwhile, 1976 also saw the ending of special category status for political prisoners.

Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced that people convicted of causing terrorist offences were to be treated as ordinary criminals.

On September 14, 1976 Kieran Nugent was the first prisoner to be sentenced under the new regime and he refused to wear prison clothes choosing instead to wrap a blanket around himself kick-starting what became known as the ‘Blanket Protest’.

Over the next five years this escalated into the hunger strikes of 1981.

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