Belfast Telegraph

Claudy bombing: Former detective - RUC stopped me from arresting Fr Chesney

By Brendan McDaid

A former RUC Special Branch detective has claimed he was 15 minutes from raiding the home of suspected Claudy bomber Fr James Chesney when he was stopped by his superiors.

The ex-policeman said he was preparing for the operation from Magherafelt Station but was told not to proceed because the “matter was under control”.

He told the BBC that he was “highly annoyed” at being prevented from arresting the priest by senior RUC officers, despite receiving information that there was “a large amount of firearms in the parochial house”.

He said: “The decision not to pursue Mr Chesney was not taken at a low level, it was not made by those who were investigating this or were any way associated with it.

“This was not a decision by the RUC in general, this was not a decision by the detective inspector who was leading the investigation and those who were working with him.

“This was a decision made above — way above — the investigating team.”

The Claudy bombing probe was based at Victoria RUC Station in Londonderry.

The report revealed that the original papers from that investigation “cannot be located”.

The police officer was interviewed by the Police Ombudsman's team for its Claudy report.

Ombudsman Al Hutchinson’s damning report into the investigation was published on Tuesday.

The report states that ‘Police Officer 1’ had participated in the interviews of a man identified only as ‘A’ during the 1972 police inquiry, by which time the priest was already suspected of involvement in the attack that July 31.

The report states: “In the months after the bombing of Claudy, Police Officer 1 submitted intelligence reports.

“The officer told the Police Ombudsman’s investigation that in these reports he had connected Fr Chesney with the atrocity.

“The officer said that the reports had alleged that the priest was a leading member of an active IRA unit, responsible for the bombings in south Londonderry/ Derry.

“He confirmed that the reports had included related intelligence. The detective recalled that he had wanted to have Father Chesney arrested and the Parochial House searched but that his request had been refused by Police Officer 3, ACC Special Branch, who had advised that ‘matters are in hand’.”

The Ombudsman concluded that senior RUC officers were made aware of correspondence between the then-Catholic Primate Cardinal William Conway, and the Secretary of State William Whitelaw, during which the removal of Fr Chesney across the border to Donegal was discussed.

The priest was never questioned and was transferred in 1973.

He died in Donegal in 1980.

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