Belfast Telegraph

Corporals Wood and Howes killed in Belfast 'mistakenly identified as SAS'

By Rebecca Black

Two soldiers murdered by the IRA after being attacked by a mob in west Belfast had been mistakenly identified as belonging to the SAS, it has emerged.

A new BBC documentary about the month that pushed Northern Ireland to the precipice 30 years ago found that two Royal Anglian corporals who had the misfortune to end up amid an angry republican crowd were wrongly believed to be members of the special forces unit.

Just three days after loyalist Michael Stone launched his deadly attack at Milltown Cemetery, Derek Wood and David Howes got caught up in a funeral procession of an IRA member as they returned from Belfast to Lisburn.

As the mob surrounded their car, Wood drew his pistol and fired a warning shot, but he and Howes were dragged from the vehicle. Their captors discovered an ID marked "Herford" in Howes' pocket which they mistakenly read as "Hereford" - home to an SAS base in England.

In fact Herford is a town in Germany where Howes had been based until the previous week.

The soldiers were stripped and beaten by an angry mob before being forced into a taxi and driven to waste ground where they were shot dead.

The Funeral Murders, which was shown on BBC2 last night, is billed as the story of a "deadly series of events which took place at two funerals in Belfast in March 1988".

It includes dramatic footage from Stone's infamous attack on the joint funeral of three IRA members - Sean Savage, Daniel McCann and Mairead Farrell, who were killed by the SAS in Gibraltar as they planned an attack on an army parade.

It hears from former IRA men Seanna Walsh and Sean 'Spike' Murray, as well as from former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Walsh recalled chasing Stone following the cemetery attack and narrowly avoiding being shot by him, before Stone threw a hand grenade that "sizzled" as it exploded.

"I felt an impact on my inner thigh and I realised that I was injured," he said.

"They actually put me into the hearse, they gave me anaesthetic and operated, took the shrapnel out and gave me a lot of stitches."

A police officer, whose name is given on the programme as 'Noel', saw men attempting to bundle Stone into a car, when officers intervened.

Another officer recalled Stone saying: "The f***ing thing jammed or I would have got more of the b******s."

Three days later, Wood and Howes were murdered by the IRA after driving into a funeral procession for Kevin Brady, an IRA man killed by Stone.

Cyril Donnan, then an RUC chief superintendent, told the programme that as the crowd surged towards the soldiers' car, police had no idea what was going on. "As soon as we realised something was wrong, we decided we needed to get out there," he told the programme, also admitting that had meant defying his "stand-off" orders.

Seanna Walsh also gave his perspective on those killings, insisting the soldiers were "undoubtedly undercover".

"They weren't in British army uniform, and they didn't have the standard GI haircut," he said, adding, "I don't believe they were up to any good."

However, 'Noel' said he was on duty that day, and believed the ill-fated corporals had gone "wandering".

The Funeral Murders is available to view on BBC iPlayer

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