Former Derry bishop takes issue with Claudy report

Tue, Aug 31, 2010, 01:00

FORMER BISHOP of Derry Dr Edward Daly has questioned the report into the Claudy bombing by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and criticised media coverage of it.

Dr Daly queried Al Hutchinson’s report, which said the Catholic Church co-operated with the British government to remove a priest suspected of involvement in the bombing in 1972.

He further doubted involvement by Fr James Chesney in the bomb attack on the Co Derry village, which killed nine people, the youngest aged just eight.

The ombudsman reported: “Intelligence which the RUC obtained in the weeks and months following the Claudy bombings presented significant investigative opportunities which were not pursued in relation to Fr James Chesney’s alleged involvement in the atrocity.

“Rather than act on these opportunities a senior RUC officer sought the [British] government’s assistance in December 1972, through their engagement with senior figures of the Catholic Church, to ‘render harmless a dangerous priest’. In view of the considerable intelligence available to the RUC in respect of Fr Chesney the police ombudsman concluded that this was wrong and compromised the investigation.”

However, Dr Daly, in an opinion article for the Irish News in Belfast and later released to all media yesterday, questioned the findings, particularly in relation to Fr Chesney. “The report aired suspicions about him that were based solely on intelligence reports,” Dr Daly wrote. “But intelligence and evidence are completely different things. Why was the ombudsman unable to find evidence against him after years of investigation?

“He found only these ‘intelligence reports’, and 1972-type RUC intelligence at that. In the 1970s there was widespread scepticism about RUC Special Branch intelligence. Hundreds were interned on such intelligence.”

Dr Daly said his experience of the Troubles and of high-profile miscarriages of justice had bred a “constructive scepticism”.

“I have seen convictions based on signed admissions and forensic evidence completely overturned years later,” he said.

“Fr Chesney was never arrested, questioned, charged or convicted. He cannot answer for himself. He has been dead 30 years.”

He added: “I am not at all convinced that Fr Chesney was involved in the Claudy bombings. I may be mistaken, but I do not think so. I was a contemporary of his at school. I did not know him very well but knew him reasonably well.”

He went on to criticise journalists for their coverage of the report into the atrocity by the police ombudsman. He said reporters nowadays appeared to lack the rigour practised by their predecessors in the early turbulent days of the Troubles in 1972.

He accused reporters of failing to question key aspects of Mr Hutchinson’s report, principally that Fr Chesney was a senior IRA figure and directly involved in the car bombing of Claudy.

“Everyone takes the same unquestioning line and competes to write the most lurid headline,” he said. “The once sacrosanct presumption of innocence has been dispensed with and replaced with a presumption of guilt,” he said.