Belfast Telegraph

McGurk's Bar massacre: Police get two weeks to edit file

The families of victims of one of Northern Ireland's worst terrorist atrocities may be set to see an edited version of a long-awaited report into the killings, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for Chief Constable Matt Baggott have been granted a two-week adjournment to carry out further work on the possible release in redacted form of the dossier on the McGurk's Bar massacre.

Fifteen people were murdered when the north Belfast pub was blown up by loyalist paramilitaries in December 1971.

A review by the Historical Enquiries Team of the police investigation into the bombing was completed last December. With detectives said to be pursuing further evidential leads, the findings remain withheld from relatives of those killed in the Ulster Volunteer Force attack.

Judicial review proceedings have been issued against the Chief Constable, claiming he is under a public law duty to disclose the report without delay.

The legal challenge, brought by Bridget Irvine, whose mother Kitty was among those killed, contends that the ongoing failure to hand the dossier over is irrational, unlawful and in breach of their human rights. In court her barrister confirmed lawyers for the PSNI were seeking more time to consider whether to release a redacted version.

Frank O'Donoghue QC said the families were prepared to "acquiesce" to a short adjournment but would not consent to a suggested four-week period.

"Frankly we are now approaching the 42nd anniversary and my clients, most of them are very elderly," he said. "They just want some finality to this stage of the process before they move on to the next stage of the process."

Peter Coll, for the Chief Constable, told the court work would continue in the next two weeks.

"The PSNI have been making progress in respect of this point, but just aren't quite at a position yet to bring it to fruition."

Just one man has been convicted for his part in the attack.

The legal challenge follows a Police Ombudsman probe in 2011 that claimed the original RUC investigation was biased.

It said police failed to properly probe loyalist responsibility for the bombing because they were so focused on the idea that the IRA was to blame.

At the time, Mr Baggott pointed to different conclusions reached by other reports.

The High Court case will be heard again on November 19.

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Background

At 8.47pm on December 4, 1971, a UVF bomb packed with a massive 50 pound charge of gelignite blew McGurk's pub to pieces.

The explosion in north Belfast was so loud, it reverberated 15 miles away in Co Down.

Hundreds of local people rushed from nearby flats and houses to help in the frantic search among the ruins for the dead and living - their friends and neighbours.

They tore at the tons of masonry and rubble with bare hands, even bringing ropes from their homes to try and move the mountain of mangled debris.

An Army bulldozer was deployed to shift what wreckage it could to a site across the road.

The search operation continued throughout the night, until daybreak revealed a mound of bricks and boulders, where McGurk's pub once stood.

It was a quiet family run bar - the popular "local" - and a horrific disaster of this magnitude deeply wounded the community of North Queen Street and beyond.

The McGurks were well-respected in the area, known for their warmth and generous spirit.

Soon after the explosion, the army claimed it had been an IRA bomb in transit, but this was proved unfounded.

The League of Empire Loyalists, a cover name used by the UVF, admitted responsibility.

In 1976, the organisation's west Belfast OC Robert Campbell was given 16 life sentences for his part in the murders.

The appalling carnage was to rob children of precious parents, mums and dads of sons and daughters and tear asunder the devoted relationships between husbands and wives.

Retired reporter Paddy Reynolds, who covered the shocking tragedy, has a footnote to the drama which he watched unfold.

"As I left the scene of terrible devastation in the cold light of that chill December dawn, I witnessed something which I can only describe as a strange phenomenon," he recalls.

"Most unseasonably, starlings nesting in a tree-lined part of North Queen Street began to chirp.

"Gradually, the unreal noise built into a crescendo; an eerie dawn chorus in the depths of winter.

"It was both sad and moving, and I remember describing it at the time as a requiem of birdsong."

- PAULINE REYNOLDS

Belfast Telegraph

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