Belfast Telegraph

NIO misled me over files, says mum of child killed by RUC plastic bullet

Paul Whitters, who died after being hit by a plastic bullet
Paul Whitters, who died after being hit by a plastic bullet
His mother Helen
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

The family of a teenager who died after being hit by a plastic bullet has urged the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to explain why information allegedly given to them about a secret file on his death was incorrect.

Files on the circumstances surrounding the 1981 deaths of Paul Whitters (15) from Londonderry and 14-year-old Julie Livingstone from west Belfast are held in the Government’s National Archives and sealed until 2059.

Paul died 10 days after he was hit on the side of the head by a plastic bullet fired by an RUC constable.

Julie, meanwhile, died from injuries sustained when she was hit by a plastic bullet fired by a soldier. The NIO ordered the files to be closed, but when the families met with former Secretary of State Karen Bradley last July to ask about the content of the files and why they had been sealed until 2059, Ms Bradley is said to have told them she did not have the power to recall the records or say why they had been sealed by the NIO.

Paul’s mother Helen, assisted by the Pat Finucane Centre, queried this with the National Archives, which said the Secretary of State could recall the files under Section 4(6) of the Public Records Act 1958.

When Mrs Whitters and Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre challenged NIO officials this week about why Ms Bradley apparently said she could not recall the files, civil servants are said to have told them they could not recall Ms Bradley’s comments.

They have now reiterated their request for NIO to retrieve the files from the National Archives and review their contents.

“I am absolutely clear in my mind that the former Secretary of State and a number of civil servants told me that they could not access closed files,” said Mrs Whitters.

Mr O’Connor said the treatment of the families was unacceptable and added he had written to the NIO asking for clarity.

“Paul Whitters’ father passed away recently believing the NIO could not access closed files, which we know now is not the case,” he said.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The Government has great sympathy for the terrible loss suffered by these families and all those who lost loved ones as a result of the Troubles.

“Officials will continue to work with the families as they seek further information on the deaths of their loved ones.”

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