McGurk’s Bar Massacre: Information Tribunal Hears Why Police Are Withholding Evidence on Atrocity’s 52nd Anniversary - Press Release from KRW Law.
KRW LAW continues to assist relatives of the victims of the McGurk’s Bar Bombing.
On 4 December 1971, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), detonated a bomb at McGurk's Bar. The explosion caused the building to collapse, killing fifteen Catholic civilians—including two children—and wounding seventeen more.
It was the deadliest attack in Belfast during the Conflict.
Since then, the truth regarding the circumstances of the bombing, its investigation, and the ‘official’ narrative regarding responsibility for the bombing. has been manipulated.
This continues to be the case despite protracted public law challenges and civil law actions to expose and establish the truth about the bombing and the counter-insurgency policies and practices used by the British Security Forces and Services then and throughout the course of the Conflict.
Today, Ciarán MacAirt, the grandson of Kitty Irvine, who perished in the bombing, will return once again to the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast. He will be giving evidence to the Tribunal which oversees the regulation of the Freedom of Information Act in the UK. He will be represented pro bono by KRW LAW and senior and junior counsel from 7 Bedford Row (7BR) Chambers in London.
Last year Ciarán MacAirt made a request to the PSNI under the Freedom of Information Act for:
“The provenance, dates, and source (with any names redacted, of course) of the intelligence contained within ‘Special Branch Assessment for the Period Ended 15th December 1971’ which was used as a briefing at a Joint Security Committee meeting on 16th December 1971 (1971/Joint Sec/50), please?”
At this meeting, the then Chief Constable Graham Shillington and his head of Special Branch (Assistant Chief Constable David Johnston) presented a police assessment to the Northern Ireland Prime Minister (Brian Faulkner), the General Officer Commanding the British Army (Lt. General Sir Harry Tuzo) and Minister of State (John Taylor, now Baron Kilclooney) that included the lies:
“Circumstantial evidence indicates that this was a premature detonation and two of those killed were known IRA members at least one of whom had been associated with bombing activities. Intelligence indicates that the bomb was destined for use elsewhere in the city.”
MacAirt had traced this disinformation to a secret agreement between the commander of the British Army in Belfast, Brigadier Frank Kitson (now General Sir Frank Kitson retired) and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) within hours of the explosion.
A log in the Commander’s Diary for 39 Brigade proved that Brigade Commander Kitson informed Brigade staff at 1am on December 5th 1971, just over 4 hours after the bombing:
“RUC have a line that the bomb in the pub was a bomb designed to be used elsewhere, left in the pub to be picked up by the Provisional IRA. Bomb went off and was a mistake. RUC press office have a line on it – NI should deal with them.”
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The PSNI refused this request for the provenance and source of this false intelligence. The Information Commissioner Office (ICO), the statutory authority with the jurisdiction to regulate the FOIA regime, upheld this refusal. The appeal before the Tribunal today is to argue before members of an independent judicial panel why this material should be disclosed to the public.
The PSNI, and other statutory agencies, including the MOD and NIO, have, regarding Conflict-related FOIA requests, maintained a blanket-refusal to disclose requested material. It is the same corporate attitude which is seen in all challenges to the ‘official’ narratives of the Conflict.
This is why the McGurk’s relatives have fought for so long through the courts to have the narrative set straight: their loved ones were murdered and then blamed for their own deaths as ‘pawns’ in the implementation of that part of British counter-insurgency policy and strategy using propaganda.
Professor Mark McGovern of Edge Hill University and the author of Counterinsurgency and Collusion in Northern Ireland will give expert evidence for Ciarán MacAirt. He will explain why it is in the wider public interest for this material to be disclosed given the mechanism of the Legacy Act threaten to conceal truth forever.
Those like Ciarán MacAirt who see FOIA as a tool for truth-recovery and information-retrieval realise that the mechanism of the opposed Legacy Act 2023 – the ICRIR – will deny the exposure of truth to relatives of victims and survivors and that it has been imposed by the British Government in order to bury the truth.
FOIA will therefore become an increasingly important resource to fulfil the demands of the out-workings of the Legacy of Conflict in Northern Ireland, as a mechanism to retrieve the truth and correct the historical narrative in the names of the dead.
Christopher Stanley, KRW LAW said this morning:
“KRW LAW and Counsel are acting pro bono on behalf of Ciarán MacAirt and the relative of the victims of the McGurk’s Bar Bombing 1971, who were killed 52 years ago today.”
“This is an appeal to have disclosed state documents relevant to the immediate police investigation and security service reaction to the bombing and to ensure an official narrative of blame was imposed upon history.”
“That historical narrative is still being fought for by relatives of the victims of the Conflict.”
“The ICRIR will do nothing save to bury further the truths of the Conflict and deny relatives justice and accountability.”
“FOIA may be one way to challenge that in future. If ‘live investigations’ into a 52 year-old mass murder and National Security exemptions apply to the same there have to be compelling reasons why – there are not in this instance and it is in the public interest to disclose the material.”
Ciarán MacAirt said:
“It is sickening that our families are forced to fight the police for evidence 52 years to the day that our loved ones were murdered in McGurk’s Bar and the police began its cover-up. Today, PSNI is abusing the Freedom of Information Act and seeks to bury the truth forever. Only for the support of KRW Law and 7BR Chambers, we would not be able to fight this legally and the police would have perverted the course of justice again.”
“All we want is the police to substantiate their lies about the McGurk’s Bar victims or admit that the police fabricated them.”
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