Mother of Paul Whitters calls on SoS Bradley to release files

Today marks 38 years since 15 year old Paul Whitters was shot in the head by a plastic bullet fired by a RUC officer. Paul's mother, Helen, is calling on the Secretary of State Karen Bradley to release files held in the National Archives concerning Paul's death that have been reclassified to remain closed until 2059.

Paul Whitters

To the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Karen Bradley MP


Dear Karen,

My name is Helen Whitters. My son Paul was shot and seriously injured by an RUC man firing a plastic bullet on April 15 1981 in Derry. Ten days later, on April 25, we as a family took the heart breaking decision to turn off his life support on medical advice. Paul was 15 years of age.

No one has ever been held accountable for his death despite the findings of a Police Ombudsman report which found that Paul did not pose a threat when shot, was shot at under the minimum range for plastic bullets and that the RUC had failed to seek and record statements from civilians who witnessed his shooting.   

I have become aware that a file exists at The National Archives in London titled Paul Whitters: killed by a plastic baton round April 1981 CJ4/4402.  It appears that the file was reviewed in 2018 and the decision was made to keep the file closed until Jan 1 2059. I find this deeply shocking. Why should a file on the death of my 15 year old child, which happened almost forty years ago, remain classified for another forty years? What has the British Government, the NIO, the RUC got to hide? What secrets must be protected about events that April evening in Great James St?

I brought Paul into this world. When this file is opened on January 1 2059 I will not be alive. No one will still be alive who actually knew Paul as the lovely, handsome, caring, intelligent young man that he was. None of his family, his friends, his classmates.  Your Government does not have the right to withhold this from my family. You do not have the right to withhold this from his two brothers and sister.

We have decided not to seek access through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. If acceded to this would result in major redactions since an FOI request results in a document being made public. It may be that this file includes medical information that, to protect Paul’s dignity, should not be made public but no-one could reasonably argue that we, as Paul’s family, should not have access to all available information about his death.

Paul would be 53 if he were still alive. He might well have been a proud and loving father and husband, and I may well have had more grandchildren. Who knows what he would have achieved? I owe it to him to ensure that his file is not allowed to gather dust in a vault in London simply because it is seen as too embarrassing for the establishment. 

I am requesting that you as Secretary of State urgently review the status of this file and provide an unredacted copy to me, his mother.


Helen Whitters