Belfast Telegraph

Families of two boys shot by security forces call for release of secret files

Helen Whitters, mother of Stephen Whitters
Helen Whitters, mother of Stephen Whitters
Emmet McConomy, brother of Stephen McConomy
Stephen Whitters
Stephen McConomy
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

The families of two schoolchildren shot dead by security forces in Londonderry have marked the anniversaries of their deaths by calling for secret files held by the Government to be released.

Paul Whitters (15) died 10 days after he was hit on the side of the head by a plastic bullet fired by a RUC constable on April 15, 1981, while 11-yearold Stephen McConomy died three days after he was shot in the back of the head by a soldier who fired a plastic bullet at close range on April 16, 1982.

The two families have written to Secretary of State Karen Bradley demanding she use powers available to her to release files held in the National Archives in London on the deaths of the two children which have been sealed until 2059.

In her letter to Mrs Bradley, Paul Whitters' mother Helen spoke of the shock she felt when she became aware of the secret file on her son's death.

She said: "I have become aware that a file exists at the National Archives in London titled Paul Whitters: killed by a plastic baton round April 1981 CJ4/4402.

"It appears that the file was reviewed in 2018 and the decision was made to keep the file closed until January 1, 2059.

"I find this deeply shocking.

"I brought Paul into this world. When this file is opened on January 1, 2059 I will not be alive.

"No one will still be alive who actually knew Paul as the lovely, handsome, caring, intelligent young man that he was," Mrs Whitters added.

"Why should a file on the death of my 15-year-old child, which happened almost 40 years ago, remain classified for another 40 years?

"What has the British government, the NIO, the RUC got to hide?

"What secrets must be protected about events on that April evening in Great James Street?

"Paul would be 53 if he were still alive.

"He might well have been a proud and loving father and husband, and I may well have had more grandchildren.

"Who knows what he would have achieved? I owe it to him to ensure that his file is not allowed to gather dust in a vault in London simply because it is seen as too embarrassing for the establishment. "

Mrs Whitters is being supported by the brothers of Stephen McConomy who are also demanding the files are released unredacted.

Emmet McConomy recently met with Mrs Bradley after she told the House of Commons that soldiers who killed people in Northern Ireland had not committed a crime. He said she needs to prove she was sincere in her subsequent apology.

He said: "It is well within the powers of Karen Bradley to release these files and it would go some way to addressing the concern the families have.

"This is an opportunity for Karen Bradley after her apology to us over her remarks in the House of Commons to set the record straight that she and her government have nothing to hide and that they are prepared to meet the needs of the families and victims.

"We are talking here about the deaths of two children.

"So what are they hiding or what are they so ashamed of that they have to keep these files closed?

"It is time now these questions were answered.

"This adds to the pain of our family and all families who are seeking the truth of what happen to our loved ones."

The Northern Ireland Office declined to comment.

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