Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

The heavy price paid by the tragic Niedermayers

Dolours Price's jailing in 1973 led to a chain of events which culminated in a notorious Troubles murder. Alan Simpson reports

Since the sad demise of Dolours Price, much has been written in the Press about her terrorist activities and those of her sister, Marian.

However, there is one deeply tragic aspect to their legacy which has been forgotten: the total destruction of the German Niedermayer family, who came to our shores towards the end of the 1960s to help sustain employment in Northern Ireland.

The events surrounding this most squalid affair are probably unknown to the present generation, who are fortunate to have been born since the Troubles ended.

Thomas Niedermayer was the head of the family. He worked for the giant German electronics firm Grundig, which had a factory at Dunmurry, employing around 800 people in the manufacture of tape-recorders.

In the late-1960s, Thomas was appointed general manager of the Belfast plant and he arrived from his native Germany, bringing with him his wife, Ingeborg, and their daughters, Renate and Gabrielle.

They settled into one of several bungalows at Glengoland Gardens in west Belfast, which Grundig had purchased for their senior management.

In addition to his senior position within Grundig, Thomas Niedermayer was appointed honorary West German consul to Northern Ireland and also held the Order of the British Empire.

In 1973, the terrorist campaign was gathering pace and, in March of that year, the IRA planted four car-bombs in central London, injuring 200 people.

The Metropolitan Police received a tip-off that, just after the bombings, several suspicious young people had boarded the British Airways London-to-Belfast flight at Heathrow.

The police asked that the aircraft be held on the ground and, when they arrived, they arrested 10 of the passengers, including the Price sisters and the now-MLA Gerry Kelly.

All were evidentially connected to the bombings and, at their subsequent trial at Winchester Crown Court, they were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Almost immediately, the Price sisters embarked on a campaign to be moved to a prison in Northern Ireland, which held out some hope of them being granted political status.

They went so far as to begin a hunger strike, but the intransigent Government refused to be influenced by their actions and began to force-feed the sisters. This barbaric practice ceased after several months and the sisters resumed their hunger strike.

The high command of the IRA now felt compelled to come to the aid of the sisters and Brian Keenan, who held a senior position on the IRA's army council, devised a plan to kidnap someone of sufficient status in an attempt to blackmail the Government into transferring the sisters to Northern Ireland.

Keenan, who died from natural causes in 2008, settled upon taking Thomas Niedermayer hostage from his home in Glengoland Gardens.

Prior to the beginning of the Troubles, Keenan had actually been employed at the Grundig factory and was also a trade union representative.

In this role, he had several confrontations with Niedermayer and, with his strong republican credentials, it must have grated on Keenan to have to negotiate with someone who held the OBE. Therefore, there was a strong belief that Keenan chose his kidnap victim with an element of personal vindictiveness.

The kidnapping was carried out as planned and the police launched an immediate investigation. At that time, I was a junior detective sergeant and had had no involvement with the operation.

Many theories were advanced as to what had actually happened to Niedermayer. The immediate suspicion was that the IRA had, indeed, taken him as a bargaining tool.

Downing Street was contacted to establish if they had received any demands, but they flatly denied they had - only to reveal to the police several years later that they had, indeed, been in short-term negotiations with the IRA over Niedermayer, but that these had suddenly ceased without explanation. (Little wonder that I have held a jaundiced view of politicians ever since.) The trail then went cold.

In 1980, some seven years after Thomas Niedermayer had disappeared, I was a detective inspector and was asked to select a team to re-open the investigation.

We received information that the victim had been murdered within a few days of his abduction by the IRA and had been secretly buried at a rubbish tip at Colin Glen in west Belfast. We located the body and a scientific examination revealed he had died from severe head injuries inflicted with the butt of a handgun and, at the time of burial, had been bound and gagged.

Two Belfast men were charged in connection with the killing. John Christopher Bradley, of Norglen Crescent, was jailed for 20 years for manslaughter. Eugene McManus, of Rockville Street, was sentenced to five years for withholding information and IRA membership.

In the intervening years, the victim's wife Ingeborg remained in Northern Ireland in the vain hope that some day her husband would be returned to her. Sadly, her health quickly deteriorated due to the terrible events which had befallen her family.

Some years later, Ingeborg booked into a seaside hotel in Greystones, Co Wicklow and, within a few hours, was seen deliberately walking into the crashing waves, which rapidly engulfed her. Her body was recovered a short time later.

In the years which followed, the couple's daughters, Renate and Gabrielle, emigrated to South Africa and Australia respectively, only for both of them to take their own lives, too. One of the girls left behind a daughter, who now lives in Australia.

Those of us who lived through the Troubles witnessed many personal tragedies visited upon families. But there can be few as poignant as that which befell the Niedermayer family - all carried out in the name of Irish patriotism.

While the names of the Price sisters will, in due course, enter the realms of Irish republican folklore, it should be remembered just what damage they inflicted on so many innocent people.

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