Belfast Telegraph

First Troubles victim was beaten unconscious alongside daughter by RUC - We just want the truth, says family

Cathy Healey with a picture of her dad Sammy Devenny
Cathy Healey with a picture of her dad Sammy Devenny
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The daughter of a Londonderry man who died of a heart attack after being beaten by police has said she wants the truth about what happened as she prepares to mark the 50th anniversary.

Sammy Devenny was beaten unconscious alongside his daughter by baton-wielding RUC officers at their William Street home in the Bogside on April 19, 1969.

Mr Devenny (43), a father-of-nine, had a heart attack four days after the incident and died three months later. He is regarded by many as the first victim of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

His daughter Cathy Healey (66) said her family's life was destroyed by the incident.

Speaking ahead of a Mass on Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary, she said she has given up on justice, and now just wants the truth.

Cathy was 16 at the time of the incident and watched the officers beat her father before turning their batons on her.

"We were brought up in William Street," she recalled. "There were nine of us children, my mother Phyllis, my father Sammy and my uncle Harry.

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"My mother and father were just 18 and 20 years old when they married. Daddy was a very quiet man. He drove a hearse and taxied to make ends meet.

"He was very strait-laced and religious. He always wore a shirt and tie. He kept himself very well and was very respectable. My poor daddy did not deserve to die like that."

Cathy said life was "happy and normal" until April 1969.

"On Saturday, April 19 I had gone into the town to sell stickers for the YMCA," she added.

"When we were there we became aware of rioting at the lower part of the town and, because I lived there, I thought I'd be better going home.

"It was difficult because rioters were having running battles up and down William Street and I lived right in the middle of it. The riot was happening right outside my door.

"But an older man saw my distress and he walked me around and I was able to get home.

"When I arrived home my dad was making the dinner, which was a funny sight indeed, as I had never even so much as seen him successfully make a cup of tea. My mother was sick in bed with the flu and I ran up to tell her I was home safe.

"I looked out her window and saw that police were batoning people on the street. It was terrible to see and my sister and I must have been squealing at this as my mother told us to get away from the window and go back downstairs."

Cathy said there was a lull in the rioting and her father went to the front door to talk to neighbours while the children played in a downstairs room - but then everything changed.

She recalled: "Next thing I hear this enormous rumble in the hall, the living room door flings open and my father fell in backwards with a policeman hitting him with a baton. My daddy was in front of me, laying on the ground and four of them came in and started laying into him with their batons and kicking him on our living room floor.

"I started to scream and must have drawn attention to myself because they then targeted me. They hit me across the back with their batons and I screamed more. They were screaming that we were 'Fenian b*******'.

"They hit me on the arms, on the shoulder, the legs. I rolled myself into a ball and one of them dragged me off the sofa by the feet. I rolled myself into a ball on the floor and he kicked me on the tailbone and I passed out."

Cathy said the sight that awaited her as she regained consciousness will haunt her forever.

"So I woke up and I am in front of the fireplace," she added. "Apparently they had kicked me across the floor. What I didn't know was that my sister Anne laid on top of me, otherwise they would have kicked me to death.

"I started to come around and felt blood dripping on my face. I looked around and it was one of our neighbours Freddy who had been standing chatting to my dad at the door when the police charged in. He had had his head split by a baton trying to protect the younger children.

"My daddy was laying on the living room carpet in a pool of blood. I crawled over to him and the blood was soaked into the knees of my jeans.

"I was sure he was dead. His head was busted open, his glasses were smashed on his face, his false teeth were broken and hanging out of his mouth and he was unconscious. I crawled out to the hall and someone lifted me up and helped me get the blood from my face.

"When I was taken back into the living room my father had been lifted onto the sofa and had a towel wrapped around his head." She added: "His head was bleeding so badly, his nose was broken, he had two black eyes, his face, chest and arms were black with bruising and his hands were twice the size as they normally were because he had used them to protect his face.

"There was blood everywhere, all over the walls, on the sofa, the floor, on the ceiling, all over everyone. It was a horrendous, sickening sight.

"The ambulance came and we had to carry daddy out of the house past the policemen who did this to him.

"We later learned that his breastbone and ribs were also broken. I think that if daddy had not have been so strong he would have died there and then."

Her father remained in hospital for four days. An hour after being released he had a massive coronary and had to be airlifted to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he remained for a month. Two months later he had another massive coronary and died aged just 43.

Cathy said: "Even after 50 years I still find it very hard to speak about. It is just so traumatic. It was horrendous to witness, not to mention the awful injuries I got myself.

"From it all I got post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety. I still live with it all, every day. I am fearful in my own house. People should feel safe in their own home and I have never felt safe since that time."

Cathy said her family, after 50 years, just want to hear the truth about why their home was targeted.

"We will never get justice. I do not forgive the men who did this. And I don't think I ever could. It was unnecessary.

"All we want is the truth. I want them to admit what they did and why they did it. They destroyed our lives."

The family have asked the public to join them in remembering their father on Wednesday evening.

The Samuel Devenny Memorial Mass is being held at St Eugene's Cathedral on Wednesday, July 17, at 7.30pm.

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