O'Loan to probe RUC abuse of Derry Four

06 October 2005

The Derry Four - 'Help us win justice'

Investigators from the Ombudsman's Office have begun the hunt for secret RUC files which forced four Creggan teenagers into exile in 1979 and hung an unjust murder charge over them for two decades.

 

A team of detectives from forces in England arrived in the city this week to conduct separate interviews over two days with the four - now in their early forties.

But for the men to achieve justice they now need witnesses to come forward and provide alibi evidence on their behalf.

For Michael Toner, Stephen Crumlish, Gerard Kelly and Gerry McGowan, their nightmare began in early morning swoops a fortnight after a British soldier was killed at the foot of Wapping Lane on Valentines Day 1979.

Following three days of interrogation, mental and physical torture, the four signed statements implicating themselves in the killing.

The teenagers spent seven weeks on remand in Crumlin Road prison until, in a bizarre breach of practice, the four charged with murder were released on bail on April 26.

According to Paul O'Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre, all the evidence pointed to the fact that the four were wrongly charged - and crucially that the DPP knew it.

For the next 18 months they reported every day to the local police station.

The case went to trial in October 1980 and on the second day they took the hasty decision, prompted by advice from the bishop and their lawyers, to jump bail.

Now, Policing Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan wants to know exactly what went on in the interrogation rooms of Strand Road barracks that led four innocent young men to sign incriminating statements.

In 1982, after a long legal battle all four were acquitted of the murder charges but for over a year the DPP tried to hold an absconding bail penalty over them.

According to at least two of the victims the RUC interrogators who kicked, beat and coerced statements out of the four, destroyed their lives.

Both Michael Toner and Gerry McGowan suffered deeply from depression, flashbacks, panic attacks and extreme anxiety. The experience took a devastating toll on the lives of their families left behind in Derry and in turn on the men's wives and children.

And Michael Toner is convinced the injustice killed his father.

Vital evidence

The men are appealing to scores of potential witnesses who might have seen them on a Wednesday Valentine's Night in 1979. And they hope their story will jolt reaction.

Anyone who can provide any information relating to the whereabouts of all four of the men on February 14, 1979 are asked to make contact with the Ombudsman's Office on 90 828600, The Pat Finucane Centre on 71 268846 or Patricia Coyle in Harte Coyle Collins solicitors, Belfast on 90 278227.

The Derry Four - Reliving the terror of interrogation

In an interview room in their native Creggan earlier this week, two grown men wept bitterly as they relived the horrific three-day interrogation in Strand Barracks 1979 that robbed them of their future.