Belfast Telegraph

Order to treat bereaved families of hunger strikers with dignity

By Adrian Rutherford

Officials were warned to treat bereaved relatives of the hunger strikers with dignity and compassion.

The instruction was contained in secret documents prepared to deal with the anticipated death of Bobby Sands in May 1981.

A letter penned four days before his death detailed the arrangements for notifying relevant people. First to be informed would be the NIO, followed by the RUC and coroner, the Army, next of kin and, finally, the prison chaplain.

As the first hunger striker death neared, daily meetings were held between senior civil servants, Army officials and the Chief Constable Sir John Hermon. During the meeting on May 1, the group was told Sands was close to death.

"There was a certain cardiac irregularity, which could cause death at any time from now on," a memo on the meeting reports. It stated plans were being drawn up to inform all those who needed to know immediately.

The following day it was agreed that the RUC would be given 15 minutes notice of Sands' death before the news got out, with the Army next to be informed.

"The next of kin should however be treated in a decent and humane manner," the memo said. "The NIO should aim to issue a statement on Sands' death before the Provisionals could do so."

Memos of meetings on May 3 and 4 both report Sands' final hours, containing plans to keep the US and the Vatican updated on developments.

Belfast Telegraph


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