An insightful and accurate post on the ongoing witch hunt being directed at Loyalism by the Historical Enquiries Team. Written by William Plum Smith, a former Red Hand Commando prisoner who played a major role in the peace agreement in 1998 and has been prisons spokesperson for both the Progressive Unionist Party and EPIC.
Where’s the Justice and Equality for Loyalists
On the 14th February 2013 I sat in Laganside Courts where a judge delivered his verdict of guilty in the HET case against Bobby Rodgers for the killing of Eileen Doherty in 1973. Bobby Rodgers had served 16 years of a life sentence for a murder in 1974. It surprisingly wasn’t the headline news it was relegated to 4th in the queue. When it did emerge it used the typical stereotype headline. “Loyalist Killer gets life for sectarian murder of catholic teenager 19 year old Eileen Doherty. They also showed a photo of 59 year old Bobby Rodgers taken by the prison authorities after his admission into Maghaberry ignoring the fact that Bobby Rodgers was also 19 years old in 1973. The year 1973 was one of the most violent years of the conflict with 264 people killed, thousands maimed and injured hundreds of shootings and explosions yet the court and the press just cut and pasted 1973 into 2013 like one would do with documents on their PC.
However, the number one headline was that of the arrest of Sean Kelly, convicted for the murder of 9 Protestant’s in the October 1993 bombing on the Shankill Road. Of his 9 victims 3 where male and 6 were female, 2 were pensioners and 2 were schoolchildren. He received 9 life sentences and served 7 years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. I ’m sure every time the victim’s families hear his name or see his picture in the media that they reflect on their loss. Bobby Rodgers comes under the terms of the GFA and he will serve a maximum of 2 years if further legal redress is not successful. That’s a total of 18 years in prison. When Kelly was arrested in connection with a shooting in Ardoyne the whole of the republican movement rallied behind him including Sinn Fein and then we had a bizarre sequence of official public statements from the PSNI. When he was first arrested the PSNI stated it was in connection with a “paramilitary style punishment shooting”. While being questioned the PSNI issued a second statement stating it was a “non-paramilitary shooting”. Then when he was released the PSNI issued a third statement stating that it was now investigating a “paramilitary style shooting”, They sure had everyone scratching their heads wondering what was going on. The second major story was the offer of £50,000 each to victims of “Bloody Sunday” which was quickly dismissed by most of the families. Some families are insistent on prosecutions of soldiers and indeed the PSNI have announced that they have launched an investigation which they assume will take about 5 years.
The third major story was the appointment of a former IRA prisoner to the post of Vice-Principal of St. Mary’s College in Derry. Rosa McLaughlin said: “The past is in the past. My only interest and concern now is for the pupils and their future”. As an ex-prisoner working for EPIC (Ex-Prisoners Interpretative Centre) we have been continually fighting for a level playing field for ex-prisoners so I can buy into her statement.
Now let us look at Bobby Rodgers treatment at the hands of the Belfast Education and Library Board. Bobby Rodgers started as a voluntary worker with Charter Youth Club in Sandy Row where he became popular with young people and was offered a part time job. He was open about his past so the Board knew of his conviction and prison sentence; He then obtained a full time job in the Youth Club and was respected by everyone within the Youth Club and local Community. Four years ago he wanted a new challenge and applied for a job with the Board as an outreach worker in the Greater Shankill Area. He was working away in the Shankill Area with young people in particular hotspots of anti-social behaviour trying to steer them away from trouble and enter into various projects to focus their attentions towards positive contributions within their community. On the 14thDecember 2010 he appeared in court charged with the killing in 1973, On the 15th December he was told by the BELB that he was prohibited from entering his place of work and any other building owned or occupied by the BELB. He was also told to hand over his keys and any property belonging to BELB to HQ in Academy Street.
The argument of unequal treatment is further enhanced when we look at HET cases brought before the courts. The policy of the HET includes the sentence “HET also applies an exemption policy for cases on the grounds of humanitarian reasons, public interest, and cases previously opened or linked cases. We can all speculate as to what “public interest” covers.
John Joseph Jordan was arrested and charged with the murder of Corporal Robert Moffet who was killed when a 200lb Land mine exploded under the UDR Land Rover he was travelling in injuring 3 other UDR men in March 1974. Jordan’s fingerprint was found on green tape used to construct the bomb. During his trial the DPP intervened to stop proceedings instructing that they be “left on the books” against Jordan and not proceeded with and Jordan walked free.
In 1981 Sgt John Proctor RUC was visiting his wife in Mid-Ulster Hospital after she had just given birth to a baby son. He was shot dead by IRA Gunmen who fired from the hospital car park. Among 13 Armalite bullet shells in the car park was a cigarette butt. DNA from the cigarette butt was traced to Seamus Martin Kearney who was arrested and charged with the murder of John Proctor and possession of an Armalite AR1 Rifle. In September 2010 the cases collapsed and didn’t proceed to trial.
Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan launched a top level probe into why cops failed to arrest Sinn Féin chief Gerry Adams over a double murder.
The launch of the inquiry came after the News of the World exclusively revealed in September how the West Belfast MP’s fingerprints had been found on a stolen car linked to an IRA hit squad in October, 1971.
In 1971 RUC detectives Cecil Cunningham and John Hazlett were sitting in a car at the junction of Twadell Avenue and Ardoyne roundabout. Gunmen from the IRA drove by the car in a Ford Cortina and fired at the detectives killing them both. The car was later found burnt out in Ardoyne. Prints taken from the burnt car were matched to prints taken from Adams when he was arrested in 1970 and confirmed in 1990 due the advances in technology. Gerry Adams was not arrested nor has he ever been questioned about these killings.
Former Loyalist lifer James Clarke arrested in 2009 for the killing of Angelo Fusco in 1973. The only evidence was based on a palm print he was convicted and sentenced to life.
Former Loyalist lifer Bobby Rodgers arrested in 2010 for the killing of Eileen Doherty in 1973. The only evidence was based on a palm he was convicted and sentenced to life.
Another Loyalist was arrested in connection with the killing of Paul McNally in 1976 and has been released while papers have been sent to the PPS.
In James Clarke and Bobby Rodgers cases because it is a non-jury court rules of evidence are different than that of jury courts. The judge drew the inference that because they refused to answer police questions, refused to give evidence in the dock and because of their previous records they were guilty. However, in the case of Colin Duffy tried for the Masserene killings of 2 soldiers, his DNA was found on the seatbelt of the getaway car and on a latex glove found in the car shortly after shooting. He refused to answer police questions or give evidence in the dock and the judge drew no inference and Duffy walked. In Bobby Rodgers case the RUC man who took the prints refused to give evidence because he claimed he was suffering Post Trauma Distress Order and the defence was denied the right to cross examine the main witness.
It becomes harder for those of us who continue working for a consolidated and progressive way forward that there isn’t a disparity in treatment of the Loyalist Community when almost every day we are getting egg on our face. Prosecutions and persecution of the past is not the way forward there needs to be some other way to deal with the past. Bobby Rodgers may have to serve 2 years and even if he does I doubt whether that would satisfy the Doherty Family. What it will do though is create a further 2 victims, Bobby Rodgers wife and his son. His son was born a year before the ceasefires. He was 5years old when the GFA was agreed. Now, his life and his mothers have become hostage to a past 40 years later.