Belfast Telegraph

Film of IRA bomb gang emerges in BBC NI documentary

Footage must be assessed for potential prosecutions: MLA

Footage shows IRA men carrying the bomb used on QUB Sports Hall
Footage shows IRA men carrying the bomb used on QUB Sports Hall
The funeral of Colm Keenan
QUB Sports Hall

By Cate McCurry

Police must examine footage from a forgotten documentary which shows IRA terrorists plotting and carrying out a bomb attack in the 1970s, according to an Ulster Unionist MLA.

Doug Beattie, the party's justice spokesman, said it is essential that detectives review all footage contained in a BBC Northern Ireland series marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the Troubles, to ascertain whether any prosecutions are possible.

It comes as the second programme from Spotlight on The Troubles: A Secret History, due to air this week, will reveal more explosive footage from the worst period of violence in the early 1970s.

The rediscovered footage, from a lost American documentary, shows a bomb attack being planned and carried out in Belfast, gunmen in Londonderry, and weapons classes for IRA recruits.

The pictures were filmed for a US documentary called The Secret Army.

It was based on a book by the same name written by New York academic J Bowyer Bell.

The documentary was filmed in 1972, but disappeared after a few screenings in America.

The BBC Spotlight team tracked down some of the documentary's makers and they have also made discoveries about the film's disappearance, which will be revealed later in the series.

IRA members allowed the Secret Army crew to film a number of attacks that were carried out without masks.

They included the planning and execution of a May 1972 bomb attack on the Queen's University Sports Hall at Upper Malone, Belfast.

Several people were hurt in the blast.

The documentary also captured IRA attempts to shoot down helicopters in Derry; a Belfast IRA meeting led by Seamus Twomey, who later became the organisation's chief of staff; and the funeral of IRA member Colm Keenan.

While Mr Beattie was not critical of police for any failure to obtain footage at the time of the violence, he said it is imperative that action is taken now in a bid to track down anyone involved in terrorist activity.

"The RUC was overwhelmed at the time, dealing with ordinary crime at the same time as investigating terrorism, while also dealing with attacks on their own lives as they went about their business," he said.

"However, I do feel there is a duty on the police to look at this evidence, for that is what it is.

"We are seeing footage of crimes being prepared and carried out, so that footage must be assessed to ascertain whether there is anything substantial, to establish whether the people in the footage are still alive, and if they are then police must take action."

The IRA killed more than 800 people during the 1972-78 period covered by this week's episode of Spotlight on The Troubles: A Secret History.

The overall death toll in this period climbed tenfold, from just over 200 dead at the beginning to more than 2,000.

Episode two of Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History will be shown tomorrow at 9pm on BBC One Northern Ireland and BBC Four.

Last week, Spotlight on The Troubles: A Secret History showed previously unseen footage of the late Martin McGuinness carrying weapons and taking part in a car bomb attack in Londonderry in March 1972.

It showed IRA members putting the finishing touches to a lethal car bomb which later blew up in the centre of the city.

The documentary showed people running for cover after the blast and amid the wreckage the bomb car's number plate is the same as the one seen driving off from where the former Mid-Ulster MP had been.

The documentary also included footage of McGuinness, who admitted that he was once a senior figure in the IRA, in Derry sitting in a car handling a rifle and a revolver as children as young as eight years old peer through the open window.

There were also claims from a former senior Army officer that Ian Paisley helped fund a loyalist terror campaign in the 1960s. His family has strongly disputed the claims.

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