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Armagh murder mystery: BBC's Gordon Adair believes old UVF helped 'hanged man' flee


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A newspaper report of Harold Courtney trial for the murder of Minnie Reid

A newspaper report of Harold Courtney trial for the murder of Minnie Reid

A newspaper report of Harold Courtney trial for the murder of Minnie Reid

Veteran BBC journalist Gordon Adair who produced a radio series on an Armagh murder mystery believes the alleged killer escaped the noose with the 'cloak and dagger' help of members of the old UVF and the Orange and Masonic orders.

Adair, who completed the seven-part Did The Right Man Hang? series despite fighting Parkinson's Disease, says he may write a book about his newfound certainty of how Harold Courtney was spirited away to Canada.

Adair's BBC Radio Ulster podcast has opened an online debate about the murder of a 23-year-old pregnant and unmarried woman called Minnie Reid who reportedly had her throat slashed before her body was dumped at the Birches in Co Armagh in July, 1932.

Adair, who had to pause his research into the bizarre case to undergo pioneering surgery for his Parkinson's in London, had started on his quest for the truth years ago after being told that Dungannon man Harold Courtney (23) - who was convicted of the killing - didn't hang in Crumlin Road Gaol but was spirited away from the prison before an innocent man was executed in his place as part of a high-level conspiracy.

Adair had originally planned a six-part series but persuaded BBC chiefs to let him compile a seventh podcast after receiving new information just before Christmas from a fresh witness, dubbed Mr Z who made contact after hearing one of the episodes on the radio.

"He told me Courtney didn't hang and that he now felt free to talk because his main source, his father-in-law, had passed away and Mr Z believed the story of Harold Courtney and Minnie Reid had stayed secret for long enough," says Adair.

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Gordon Adair searches through one of the previously secret files relating to the murder of Minnie Reid and the hanging of Haro

Gordon Adair searches through one of the previously secret files relating to the murder of Minnie Reid and the hanging of Haro

BBC NI

Gordon Adair searches through one of the previously secret files relating to the murder of Minnie Reid and the hanging of Haro

"He was very convincing, very comfortable with his account of what happened."

Mr Z told Adair that after Courtney fled the jail with the assistance of a prison warder, his father-in-law claimed he helped feed him before he used a well-travelled 'UVF escape route' to get to Canada.

Mr Z said that in Toronto, Courtney met up with another Ulsterman who had also followed the same route out of Northern Ireland after being accused of shooting two Catholics in Coalisland in 1921.

Adair says that he was told that the two men came back to Northern Ireland, apparently for Twelfth of July celebrations before Courtney went on to live in Australia.

During the series it was claimed members of the Orange and Masonic orders had been involved in the conspiracy not only to free Courtney but also to cover up the fact that Minnie Reid (right) died as a result of a botched abortion and that the father of her child was what Mr Z thought was a "politically elevated gentleman", not Courtney who "took the rap" for the pregnancy.

In a number of interviews a man called Maurice Cregan told Adair and his producer Orphelia Byrne that he had seen Courtney in Australia, 30 years after he was supposed to have died.

Cregan said on his return home to Northern Ireland, he started to investigate Reid's murder but he claimed he was intimidated by Orange and Masonic figures and burnt all his papers.

Adair says he is now more certain than ever that Harold Courtney did not hang in Belfast but he has been unable to find out a burial place for him.

Adair isn't ruling out a second series of programmes about the case which he concedes would have to answer the one question that still baffles the journalist - and that's how the conspirators could have managed to hang someone other than Courtney.

Adair says: "We would have to find out who was hanged, someone who went into jail and never came out. I would love to write a book about it all but I would need to tie up the loose ends."

Regarding his health, Adair says his condition which was diagnosed nearly nine years ago - four months after the birth of his second child, a daughter he called Hope - can change from hour to hour with him having good days and bad days.

"I have learnt how to live with the Parkinson's and I accept that I maybe can't do things as quickly as I might have done at one time," says Adair, who is still working for the BBC on their Re-Wind archive platform.

"The medics who carried out my operation in London seem happy that the results of my regular tests show I'm doing pretty well. I'm fortunate. With a lot of people, Parkinson's is a lot more aggressive and has a much bigger impact on their lives and more quickly than it has done with mine."

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