| 11.1°C Belfast

£1.5m payout for Miami Showband massacre families and survivors... musicians were murdered by UDR soldiers and UVF


Former band members Stephen Travers (left) Des Lee (right) pictured leaving Belfast High Court.

Former band members Stephen Travers (left) Des Lee (right) pictured leaving Belfast High Court.

Former band members Stephen Travers (left) Des Lee (right) pictured leaving Belfast High Court.

Survivors and relatives of those murdered in the Miami Showband massacre are to receive nearly £1.5m in total damages to settle claims over suspected collusion with the loyalist terrorist murderers.

The resolutions reached in their legal actions against the Ministry of Defence and the Police Service of Northern Ireland were announced today at the High Court in Belfast.

Powerful victim impact statements were also given by the wounded band members and those bereaved in the atrocity.

Clearly moved by what he was told, the judge said their accounts would remain with him for the rest of his life.

One of Ireland's most popular cabaret acts, the Miami Showband was targeted as they travelled home to Dublin following a gig in July 1975.

A fake army patrol made up of UDR soldiers and UVF members stopped them at the bogus checkpoint outside Newry, Co Down.

Band members were made to line up at the side of the road while attempts were made to hide a bomb on the tour bus.

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

The device exploded prematurely, killing some of the would-be bombers.

Their accomplices then opened fire on the band, murdering lead singer Fran O'Toole, guitarist Tony Geraghty and trumpeter Brian McCoy.

Two other band members, Des McAlea and Stephen Travers, were also injured but survived the atrocity.

In 2011 a report by the Historical Enquiries Team raised collusion concerns around the involvement of an RUC Special Branch agent.

It found that notorious UVF boss Robin 'The Jackal' Jackson, a one-time UDR member who died in 1998, had been linked to one of the murder weapons by fingerprints.

Jackson, a suspected RUC Special Branch agent linked to scores of murders, claimed in police interviews he had been tipped off by a senior police officer to lie low after the killings.

He went on trial charged with possession of a silencer attached to a pistol used in the murders but was subsequently acquitted.

Two serving members of the UDR were, however, eventually convicted for their part in the attack.

Writs were issued against both the MoD and Chief Constable on behalf of four of the band members, seeking damages for assault, trespass, conspiracy to injure, negligence and misfeasance in public office.

In court today the legal actions were settled without any admission of liability.

Mr Travers is to receive £425,000 in damages, while Mr McAlea's payout was confirmed as £325,000.

The personal representatives of Mr O'Toole and Mr McCoy are to receive £375,000 and £325,000 respectively.

All four plaintiffs were awarded legal costs in bringing the cases through their solicitor Michael Flanigan.

In an unusual move, Mr Justice McAlinden granted an opportunity for the victims to set out how they have suffered.

Mr Travers told the court about his "great adventure" travelling to shows with band mates who became close friends during the "hot summer of '75".

"I loved playing with them, it was a brilliant, exciting band," he said.

Recalling his murdered musical colleagues, Mr Travers said: "Sadly my abiding memories of these three talented young men, who I had just been on stage with playing Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet, are forever fused with the most horrific, ever-present images imaginable."

From the age of 24 his life was defined by a "terrible, premature sadness".

Mr McAlea said they had finally obtained justice after 46 years.

He also described the "enormous" impact on his mental and physical health.

"I wake up to these murders every day of my life," he said.

"There are photographs of Fran, Brian and Tony in my apartment. That night will live with me until the day I die."

He added: "Every time I journey to the south of Ireland I stop at the scene of the massacre. It is very painful, I lay flowers and I say my prayers.

"Before I die, I want to see a monument in Northern Ireland to Fran, Brian and Tony. They must never be forgotten."

Fran O'Toole's daughter, Rachel O'Toole, travelled from her home in Vancouver, Canada for the hearing.

In a statement read by her barrister, Brian Fee QC, she told how her family was left "broken" by the killings.

"The Miami Showband were lured on their way home into an insidious trap, leaving three friends murdered," Ms O'Toole said.

She told the court her father had little interest in politics and was completely opposed to violence.

Counsel for the Ministry of Defence and the PSNI explained that compromises had been made to reach the settlements in a unique set of legacy cases.

Paul McLaughlin QC told the court the claims had raised complex, novel and unusual issues of both fact and law.

"The major issues which arose in this case concern questions of vicarious liability and limitation," he said.

"The settlements which have been reached represent compromises.

"They are compromises in the interests of all parties in the case, and therefore avoided the necessity of reaching a final adjudication, one way or the other, on these difficult issues."

"The fact he was killed by UVF terrorists who knew nothing about him, causes my family even deeper anguish when we learn the extent to which security forces colluded in the events which led to his death," she added.

"The plan to plant a bomb on the band's minibus, and detonate it once they crossed the border, to cause even more innocent people's deaths, and re-write the Miami Showband's identities as terrorists, is heinous."

Brian McCoy's widow, Helen, described how she never got over his murder.

"Des and Stephen have told me that the rest of the band regarded Brian as a father-figure, because he was always sensible and kind," she said in her statement.

"He had the same qualities and more, as a husband and father. Our lives were turned upside down when he was murdered.

"I am not bitter, but I want all those who colluded in his murder to know how much they damaged our lives. Collusion with the UVF terrorists was simply wrong."

Paying tribute to the victims, Mr Justice McAlinden said he hoped they may gain some relief from the pain suffered for so long.

He stated: "I have heard my difficult cases, but the comments expressed to me today will remain with me throughout the rest of my career and indeed throughout the rest of my life."

Top Videos