Belfast Telegraph

Dark truths from our past lie silent in Boston College

The Boston archives' row centres on Gerry Adams' alleged role in murder. What else does it hold, asks Alan Simpson

I must confess to having a healthy appreciation of the rich irony of the Boston College Oral History Project handing over to the US authorities, on foot of an order from one of their courts, the taped confessions of some former Northern Ireland terrorists.

Two of the loyalist confessors in the project - William 'Plum' Smith and Winston Churchill 'Winkie' Rea, both formerly of the Red Hand Commando - urgently want their taped disclosures returned "not due to their content, but on a point of principle".

As a retired detective superintendent who worked for many years in west and north Belfast, I would be keen, should the tapes be handed over to the PSNI, that they be placed in the public domain - particularly in respect of Rea.

I first encountered Rea one day in February 1973, when, as a very junior detective, I found myself alone in the CID offices at Springfield Road RUC station.

Around lunchtime, a call came through that two Catholic post office workers, Michael Coleman (30) and 38-year-old Joseph McAleese, who had just finished a shift at the nearby Divis Street sorting office, had been making their way home on foot to the Clonard area when a car pulled up and a gunman armed with a sub-machine-gun stepped out and fired several bursts, killing them instantly.

Accompanied by a uniformed colleague and an Army patrol, I dealt with the scene. A large crowd had gathered. Also present was the late Paddy Devlin, who had recently lost his parliamentary seat for West Belfast.

The scene was quite chaotic and I noticed some children kicking around several of the spent cartridge cases and was relieved when Paddy Devlin took this vital evidence from them and handed it to me. I collected the remainder and Devlin then successfully encouraged the crowd to disperse.

The car used in the double-murder was recovered a short time later in the Shankill area and, when forensically examined, a distinct palm print was found on it which was identified as having being made by Rea.

He was duly arrested and, as we could not prove he had actually been in the car at the time of the killings, he was convicted of assisting offenders and received a prison sentence of eight years.

I strongly suspect that the late Frankie Curry, a member of the Red Hand Commando and a close associate of Rea, was the actual gunman. Curry was himself shot dead in 1999 by fellow loyalists.

I had had many encounters with him and managed to put him in prison a few times. Just prior to his murder, Curry confided in a reputable journalist that he had been involved in a total of 13 killings - most of them sectarian murders.

He claimed to have been 'blooded' at the tender age of 13 years by his uncle, Gusty Spence, when he took away the weapons from the scene of the Malvern Street shooting.

I wonder did Spence - before his death last September - ever take responsibility for setting his nephew on a road which led to so many killings.

My interest in the Boston tapes is to discover - should they ever be made public - if Rea actually mentions the murder of the two postal workers in 1973.

If he does, has he considered any sort of apology or explanation to their relatives?

My cynical nature believes it is the actual contents of the Boston tapes that is the real reason Rea wants them returned.

And now to the late Brendan 'The Dark' Hughes, former officer commanding of the Belfast brigade of the IRA, who also recorded his memoirs for the benefit of the Boston project.

I only encountered him once, just after his arrest in an IRA safe-house in Myrtlefield Park, off the Malone Road in 1974.

I could see instantly how he earned his nickname as he was very swarthy with thick, black hair and a large moustache. Had I not known his history, I would have guessed he was of Turkish extraction.

During the recording of his experiences in the IRA, he strongly implicated Gerry Adams as the man who ordered the kidnapping, interrogation and subsequent execution by a single bullet to the back of the head of Jean McConville - a mother of 10 - for her perceived sins against the IRA.

Hughes' allegations against Adams have been corroborated by Dolours Price, who was a notorious and very active member of the IRA and who admits driving the unfortunate Jean McConville to her appointment with death.

It is often said by commentators on the Troubles that there should be no hierarchy of victims, but who for example, would not show greater compassion for a murdered child?

Similarly, the killing of a woman has always had a certain abhorrence throughout the civilised world - never mind a woman who was the mother of 10 children.

Adams, as one would expect, denies any involvement in the killing but in mitigation, if he was involved as alleged, he too must have felt a degree of shame at what could be regarded as a war-crime, as the perpetrators had her body secretly buried to conceal their foul deed and it was not recovered until 30 years had passed.

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