Widows whose husbands were murdered by loyalist paramilitaries awarded six-figure settlements

Families of Jim Loughrey and John Toland took civil proceedings against UK Ministry of Defence and PSNI

Two widows whose husbands were murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1976 have been awarded six-figure settlements in cases brought against the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

The families of Jim Loughrey and John Toland began civil proceedings after investigations by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) found there may have been collusion with the security forces in the deaths of both men.

On Monday, the MoD and PSNI settled the cases with no admission of liability.

Sara Duddy from the Pat Finucane Centre, which supports both families, said the settlement was a “positive outcome for two widows and two families devastated by these murders over 40 years ago” and the settlement went “some way to acknowledging the hurt caused”.


But she said it was “disappointing that other families will not be afforded the same opportunity to pursue this course of action due to the shameful Legacy Act that stops civil actions”.

Solicitor for the families Pádraig Ó Muirigh said the settlement demonstrated it was “crucial” such cases should allowed to progress through inquest and civil proceedings unhindered by the controversial Legacy Act, which will block such cases from May 1st.

“Unfortunately, many families will be deprived of the opportunity to pursue their own legal actions due to this draconian legislation which is a clear breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and other international human rights standards,” he said.

A judgment is expected this week in a judicial review challenge taken against the Legacy Act in the High Court in Belfast.

Jim Loughrey (36) was shot by the UDA in his home in Greysteel, Co Derry, in front of his wife and eight young children in November 1976, and died of his injuries 11 days later.

The following week, John Toland (36), a father of seven, died after he was shot in the back multiple times in the Happy Landings Bar in Eglinton, Co Derry, where he was the manager.

The Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) – a cover name used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) – claimed responsibility for both murders.

In 2012 the HET found that the UDA gang who killed both men included members of the British army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and a former member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

The same gang was involved in the murder of Michael McHugh in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, and Kevin Mulhern in Derry, and the attempted murder of another individual.

A serving member of the UDR, David Hamilton, was jailed for five years for possession of the revolver used in Mr Toland’s murder.

In the case of Mr Toland, the HET concluded it was “likely there was collusion between individual members of the security forces and those responsible for John’s murder.”

In relation to Mr Loughrey, it found that “collusion could not be ruled out.”

The Toland and Loughrey families spoke of the devastation their loved ones’ murders had caused, and the “emotional and financial impacts which are still felt to this day”.

Mr Toland’s widow, Marie Newton, described how they met and fell in love when she was 17, “but my mother made me wait until I was 19 years old before I was allowed to marry him”.

“John was such a happy person, he was the happiest person on this planet, and adored his family and his home,” she said.

“We had our lives planned – we wanted a whole gang of children, and we also wanted to work as hard as we could so that we could give them the best life.

“It is hard to describe the devastation of John’s murder on my life and the lives of my children.

“My boys, who were just young children, became the men of the house and left school to go to work. They missed out on their education and future because of what happened.”

Mr Loughrey’s son Johnny said his father met their mother, Mary, as a soldier stationed in Eglinton, Co Derry; he was interested in everything from reading and Gaelic football and soccer to civil rights and world politics and was particularly fond of John F Kennedy.

“The immediate impact of Dad’s murder on our family was both shocking and dramatic,” he said, and described the “devastating effect ... from being there and watching our Dad being shot in the kitchen of the family home”.

“Each of the children suffered terrible mental and physical manifestations of the trauma.”

He explained how their education was affected; some had to change schools, and were unable to go to university, and how they “continued to feel the loss as adults, missing out on profound experiences such as my five sisters not having their father present at their weddings to give the bride away.”

“Mum struggled to raise her eight children as a single parent with often little or no money, and the hardships from this took its toll both physically and emotionally.

“Our Mum still feels the loss of Dad emotionally, and says she still misses him every day.”

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times