Belfast Telegraph

Anger over Bobby Sands death-bed memorial claim

By Stephen Gordon and Christopher Woodhouse

The bed in which IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands died has been preserved inside the Maze Prison, a top BBC journalist has claimed.

Veteran reporter Peter Taylor talks in sombre tones about Sands’ death while sitting on the bed for his film Who Won The War? which is to be screened tonight.

The revelation that the bed has been saved will shock unionists who fear that a retained section of the former jail will become a shrine to terrorism under the guise of a Peace Centre.

 TUV leader Jim Allister said: “This is a reminder of just what Sinn Fein/IRA had planned for the Maze.

“The fact that these relics of Sands have been preserved will galvanise unionists in their opposition to any so-called Peace Centre anywhere near the Maze.”

In the BBC documentary Taylor is filmed sitting on a bed inside a preserved part of the Maze complex.

He says: “I’m now sitting on the actual bed where the hunger-striker Bobby Sands died in May 1981, which I|remember covering.”

Shaking his head, he adds: “I never thought that Bobby Sands would go through with it.

“It was no ordinary death and Sands was no ordinary prisoner, no ordinary man because he was an elected Member of Parliament.”

Taylor goes on to say that the sheer scale of Bobby Sands’ victory in the Fermanagh South Tyrone by-election stunned Margaret Thatcher’s government and gave the lie to the PM’s dismissal of IRA prisoners as ordinary criminals.

He also says that Sands’ death after 66 days on hunger strike indirectly gave the IRA its long-term strategy of the Armalite and the ballot box.

Peter Taylor yesterday told Sunday Life: “That bed was in the medical wing and was actually the bed Bobby Sands died on, I remember that some of the springs had been taken away, I think, as souvenirs, which was slightly bizarre.

“I hope it has been retained for historical purposes because when you see the bed on which Bobby Sands died it brings it back home and it becomes all too real.”

He added: “Sands did not die in vain. Loyalists would obviously take a different view, but part of his legacy is where Sinn Fein are today, although Sinn Fein and Bobby Sands, were he to be alive today, would regard it as unfinished business.

“All the ghosts of the past were there, one of the biggest ghosts was Bobby Sands, brought to life when I sat on the bed.”

However, Lagan Valley DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson refused to believe that the bed was the one in which Sands had died.

He told Sunday Life: “I don't think that's accurate from my knowledge of the situation.

“Any time that I have been on the site and been at the former prison hospital and the cell where Bobby Sands was held, I certainly haven't seen a bed.”

He added: “I would be very surprised if that bed had been kept, the DUP have made clear that it would not be appropriate to display those kinds of things at the Maze because these are highly sensitive issues and we have to take account of the feelings of innocent victims.”

But last night Jim Allister said he had become aware that Sands’ bed had been preserved.

He added: “It doesn’t take a genius to work out how the Maze could become a place of pilgrimage for terror tourists.”

A watchtower, H-block cell and prison hospital where 10 republican hunger strikers starved to death have been preserved at the Maze but critics including victims’ groups have called for the relics to be bulldozed.

Plans for a Peace and Reconciliation Centre at the site were stalled last year when Peter Robinson dramatically withdrew DUP support for the project to the fury of Sinn Fein.

n Who Won The War? (BBC NI Monday, 9pm)

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