Belfast Telegraph

BBC NI presenter 'life on line' after being wrongly implicated in Troubles murders

Roisin McAuley after her health scare
Roisin McAuley after her health scare

A BBC presenter has recalled the time she was wrongly implicated in the 'honey trap' Troubles murder of three soldiers and how her bosses at the time considered sending her off to England in response.

But instead Roisin McAuley read every local news bulletin for a week.

"And with it the rumour died," she said.

The broadcaster, who now presents Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence, was speaking on the Vinny Hurrell Show as part of his mini series 'When I was 25' which asks what prominent individuals would tell their younger selves.

She discussed the sexism of the time in the early 70s when she was starting out in her career but how she felt "more exposed" as a Catholic.

"I have a name Roisin and in those days that immediately said 'Catholic'," she said.

In the early 1970s she had moved from reading the news to producing radio programmes when a rumour began circulating she was in some way involved in the death of three soldiers.

"It was ridiculous," she said.

Dougald McCaughey, 23, was killed along with brothers John and Joseph McCaig, 17 and 18 respectively, from Ayr, on March 10 1971.

The soldiers had been socialising in Belfast city centre when they were lured to the remote White Brae on the Ligoniel Road on the outskirts of the city by a republican woman and murdered. Nobody has ever been convicted in connection with the killings.

Memorial to the soldiers in White Brae
Memorial to the soldiers in White Brae

Roisin said her sister first told her of the rumour of her involvement and then a reporter in the BBC newsroom reported to the local controller she had heard the same thing on the Shankill and her "life was on the line".

She said there was a high level meeting with BBC executives and people from "police intelligence" which left her "very nervous".

"The first suggestion was that I would go and work in England," she said, adding that the idea did not take hold in the meeting.

"I thought I would never be able to come home. And the controller said 'that was madness', as he said that would not do away with the lie."

He proposed she read every single news bulletin for a week, "and that's what I did and the rumour died," she said.

"It was the name you see.

"People forget the febrile atmosphere that was around in the early 1970s. Those were the absolute worst days. Bloody Friday, Bloody Sunday, Claudy bombing, sectarian assassinations.

"When I look back I think, 'my Heavens above how did we ever survive it?'"

She later went to The Irish Times covering the 'fistycuffs" in the new assembly before spells between Fleet Street in London and the BBC in Belfast.

She talked of the sexism of her early career when she started out, of the ads for "girl Fridays" she described as a "Jill of all trades working for an important man" and how she was once the "night deskman" for The Times.

"These were sexist times," she said.

"When I started what made me different was I was a Catholic on the BBC reading the news which had never happened before. People took more note of that than the fact I was the first woman to do it."

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