Belfast Telegraph

Abandoned by his mum, raised in an orphanage, recruited at 22 and later hanged by the IRA in Long Kesh. Isn't it time there justice for Paddy Joe Crawford?

A Belfast singer-songwriter is helping to keep alive the search for truth for an almost-forgotten Troubles' victim

By Ed Moloney

It remains to be seen what arrangements to deal with the past and the needs of victims emerge following the negotiations led by former US diplomat Richard Haass. But it is arguable that they will be useless if they can uncover the truth about how the most vulnerable and powerless of the Troubles's dead met their end.

Few were more defenceless and few had a sadder, or more barbarous, death than Paddy Joe Crawford, the 22-year-old orphan and republican internee who was hanged by his fellow prisoners in Long Kesh in 1973, and then the truth about his murder covered up for nearly four decades.

Earlier this month, a song commemorating Crawford's death was released on a CD written and produced by Belfast songwriter Dave Thompson.

Entitled Falling, the lyrics implicitly suggest that, because of the lies told about his killing, Crawford should really be listed among the Disappeared: "Only a few possessions left; you didn't even own your death, buried in full view, but disappeared."

Known as PJ to his friends, Crawford was an orphan, abandoned by his mother and handed over to the Poor Sisters of Nazareth, on Belfast's Ravenhill Road, just 11 days after his birth and reared by nuns, or monks, until he was 16, when he was fostered out to a family in west Belfast. Both religious orders have since been accused of physically, or sexually, abusing children in their care, although there is no evidence that Crawford was himself assaulted.

From the available evidence it appears that Crawford joined the IRA in Beechmount in early 1973. He was arrested crossing the border in a van with seven or eight other young men, whose claim that they were on a fishing trip was belied by the fact that they had only one rod between them.

It seems that Crawford, at least, admitted that the group was really on its way to an IRA training camp and he was then interned at Long Kesh.

When he arrived at the prison camp, he was debriefed by more senior IRA prisoners and apparently admitted that he gave information to his interrogators and that sealed his fate.

When he was found hanging in a hut in Cage Five of Long Kesh, IRA leaders in the prison concocted evidence to suggest he had committed suicide; the RUC's investigation was perfunctory, to say the least, and just 12 days after his murder an inquest jury decided he had "died by his own act".

For the next 40 years, that lie about Paddy Joe Crawford's death was accepted by the world. So completely was the real reason for his death erased by his killers that he appears on none of the accepted lists of Troubles's fatalities.

And from all the circumstances of the murder it is difficult not to believe that Crawford was singled out for death because he was an orphan. There would, therefore, be no-one to ask awkward questions afterwards, or to campaign for the truth.

We now know what really happened to Paddy Joe Crawford thanks to Brendan Hughes, the former Belfast IRA commander, and to a number of former IRA members, who were privy to the details of the killing.

Hughes revealed the truth about Crawford's death in interviews given to Boston College and later published in my book, Voices From The Grave. His killing, Hughes said, was "brutal, brutal murder" and completely unjustified.

Crawford broke under interrogation, but in Hughes's experience, so had many other young IRA members, none of whom had been trained in resisting police questioning and most of whom were punished not by death, but by being ostracised: "You don't hang someone who is going through a war... if every American, or British, soldier was hanged for breaking during interrogation by the Japanese, or the Nazis, there'd have been an awful lot of deaths."

Other IRA members told what they knew about Crawford's death, because, as he was being hanged, other inmates burst into the room, saw the whole thing and afterwards told fellow prisoners. The most distressing part of their story concerned the grisly ceremonial that accompanied the murder: the improvised gallows from which Crawford was pitched into eternity was draped in a black cloth.

Within the IRA and the wider republican community, the truth about Paddy Joe Crawford's death was an open secret.

Although his death was depicted by the IRA as a consequence of the harsh regime at the prison camp, his funeral was sparsely attended and he was given none of the usual republican trappings – clear signs that Crawford had been cast out.

Nonetheless, officialdom, the media and the world at large continued for 40 years to believe that Paddy Joe Crawford had taken his own life.

Efforts to re-open the case since Hughes's interview became public have so far foundered.

The Attorney General, John Larkin, re-investigated the case, but was unable to find grounds to order a new inquest. It seems that only eyewitness testimony can do that.

And therein lies the key problem facing any truth-recovery process: just how can such witnesses be enticed, or persuaded, to come forward?

In the meantime, Dave Thompson's song keeps the cause of Paddy Joe Crawford alive.

As he wrote in an email to me: " continues to tell a story that should be told".

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