Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How the IRA's 'bomber priest' escaped justice: Cover-up agreed by police, ministers and Catholic Church

How the IRA's 'bomber priest' escaped justice: Cover-up agreed by police, ministers and Catholic Church
By Mail Online Reporter

Last updated at 8:37 AM on 25th August 2010
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Priest was IRA director of operations and prime suspect, says report
Nine people died in attack on village, including an eight-year-old girl
Head of the church: 'Knew the priest was a very bad man'
The British government and the Catholic Church colluded to cover up Father Jim Chesney's role in the 1972 bombing that killed nine people, it was revealed today
A priest suspected of being an IRA leader and masterminding a bombing atrocity was allowed to escape arrest thanks to a secret deal between police, ministers and the Roman Catholic Church, a report revealed yesterday.
Father James Chesney was the 'prime suspect' after nine people, including an eight-year-old girl, were killed and 30 injured when three car bombs exploded in the quiet Northern Ireland village of Claudy in July 1972.
Detectives wanted to arrest the Catholic priest, who was believed to be the commander of an active IRA terrorist unit, but the move was blocked by an Assistant Chief Constable concerned about the consequences of such a controversial arrest during one of the most bloody periods of the Troubles.
The police chief wrote a letter which began an official cover-up, enabling the suspected terrorist to evade justice and move across the border to the Irish Republic, where he died from cancer eight years later at the age of 46.
The letter to the Northern Ireland Office suggested the Government spoke to church leaders in the hope that action could be taken 'to render harmless a dangerous priest'.
The protection given to Chesney echoes action by the Catholic Church in Ireland to shield its priests from allegations of child sex abuse. Scandals surrounding the abuse and subsequent cover-ups have helped topple the Church from its once dominant position in Irish life.
Yesterday's report also reveals Secretary of State William Whitelaw was also sent an intelligence file detailing how a police sniffer dog carried out a 'positive' check for traces of explosives when searching Father Chesney's car at a checkpoint two months after the Claudy bombs.
Enlarge With a copy of his report under his left arm, police ombudsman Al Hutchinson (right) stands in Claudy today alongside Mary and Ernie Hamilton (left) who owned The Beaufort Hotel which was where the third bomb went off
Enlarge The first bomb exploded without warning outside McElhinney's shop and bar on Main Street
Enlarge A third bomb was hidden in a van outside the Beaufort Hotel, pictured
This information was believed to have been shared with Cardinal William Conway, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the two men held secret talks in December to discuss Chesney.
A letter about the discussions sent to police stated:'The Cardinal said that he knew that the priest was a very bad man and would see what could be done.' The priest was said to have 'strenuously denied' any involvement in the bombs when quizzed by a church 'superior'.
It was later decided to move Chesney to a parish in County Donegal, despite objections from the Chief Constable Sir Graham Shillington, who preferred sending him to Tipperary, a safer 200 miles from the border.
Indeed, Chesney was known to have regularly crossed back into Northern Ireland and police intelligence suggested he continued to be involved with the IRA, but he was never arrested or questioned.
No one was ever charged with the Claudy murders.
Details of the extraordinary cover-up between the authorities were revealed in the damning report published by Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson.
All the main players in the drama, including Mr Whitelaw, the former Tory minister, and Cardinal Conway have since died. But the inquiry team examined extensive documentary evidence, including private diaries.
THE DAY TERROR WAS UNLEASHED ON THE VILLAGE OF CLAUDY The attack was launched on the same day 12,000 British troops entered Republican no-go areas in Belfast and Londonderry in a bid to regain control.
As the military operation dubbed Motorman continued 11 miles away in Londonderry's Bogside, the first device exploded without warning outside McElhinney's shop and bar on Main Street.
Police believe the bombers attempted to telephone a warning from nearby Dungiven but the lines were down as the result of past bomb damage to the phone exchange.
They then told Dungiven shop owners that three bombs were planted in the village, but the proprietors were also unable to contact the authorities due to the line problems.
One shop owner rushed to Dungiven police station with the warning but it was too late.
Minutes after the first bomb went off, killing three and fatally wounding three others, police officers discovered a second device in a van beside the post office.
They frantically evacuated people towards the Beaufort Hotel, but little did they know that a third bomb had been concealed in another van outside the hotel.
Soon after the second bomb detonated, the third exploded, killing three more.

Findings in Mr Hutchinson's report disclosed:
Detectives believed Father Chesney was the IRA's director of operations in south Derry and was a prime suspect in the Claudy attack and other terrorist incidents.
A detective's request to arrest the cleric was refused by an assistant chief constable of RUC Special Branch who instead said 'matters are in hand'.
The same senior officer wrote to the government about what action could be taken to "render harmless a dangerous priest" and asked if the matter could be raised with the Church's hierarchy.
In December 1972 Mr Whitelaw met Cardinal Conway to discuss the issue. According to a Northern Ireland Office official, 'the cardinal said he knew the priest was a very bad man and would see what could be done'. The church leader mentioned 'the possibility of transferring him to Donegal...'
In response to this memo, RUC chief constable Sir Graham noted: "I would prefer a transfer to Tipperary."
An entry in Cardinal Conway's diary on December 5 1972 confirmed a meeting with Mr Whitelaw took place and stated there had been "a rather disturbing tete-a-tete at the end about C".
In another diary entry two months later, the cardinal noted that he had discussed the issue with Father Chesney's superior and that "the superior however had given him orders to stay where he was on sick leave until further notice".
The inquiry focused on the police role and concluded the failure to investigate Chesney properly was 'wrong'. It also criticised the request for Government intervention. Mr Hutchinson said:'The decision failed those who were murdered, injured and bereaved in the bombing. The police officers who were working on the investigation were also undermined.'
Mr Hutchinson said the decisions made must be considered in the context of the time. 'I accept that 1972 was one of the worst years of the Troubles and that the arrest of a priest might well have aggravated the security situation,' he said.
'Equally, I consider that the police failure to investigate someone they suspected of involvement in acts of terrorism could, in itself, have had serious consequences.'
Enlarge Father Chesney was transferred out of Northern Ireland following secret talks between the then Secretary of State William Whitelaw, right, and the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal William Conway, left

Almost 500 people were killed that year in appalling sectarian violence. In Claudy the dead included both Protestants and Catholics.
Yesterday Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said he was 'profoundly sorry' the victims and their families had been denied justice.
But relatives of the dead called for a fuller inquiry and for fresh attempts to catch those bombers who are still alive.
Mark Eakin, who was blown off his feet in the blast that killed his younger sister Kathryn, said he wanted to see someone 'brought to justice'.
'I feel I have been let down by the Government that I pay my taxes to. They have not performed at all, they have totally washed their hands of Claudy and preferred to wash it under a carpet for 38 years.'
Victims of the bombings:

From left to right: Patrick Connolly, Kathryn Eakin and Arthur Hone
Patrick Connolly, 15, Catholic. The teenager died in hospital over a week after being caught up in the first blast outside McElhinney's pub and shop.
Kathryn Eakin, eight, Protestant. The young girl was cleaning the windows of the family's grocery shop on Main Street when the first bomb exploded.
Arthur Hone, 38, Catholic. The married father of two died a fortnight after the bombing. Two of his uncles - both priests - conducted a requiem mass at the insurance salesman's funeral.

From left to right: Joseph McCluskey, Elizabeth McElhinney and James McClelland
Joseph McCluskey, 39, Protestant. The factory worker died instantly when the first bomb detonated.
Elizabeth McElhinney, 59, Catholic. The owner of the pub and shop where the first car bomb went off was serving petrol from the shop's pump when she was killed.
James McClelland, 65, Protestant. The street cleaner was killed by the third and final bomb contained in a mini van.

From left to right: Rose McLaughlin, David Miller and William Temple
Rose McLaughlin, 52, Catholic. The mother of eight and cafe owner died in hospital four days after the outrage.
David Miller, 60, Protestant. The street cleaner was killed by the third blast.
William Temple, 16, Protestant. The milkman's helper from nearby Donemana in Co Tyrone was on his round in the village when the bombs went off.

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