Clegg apologises over failure to investigate role of priest


BRITAIN’S DEPUTY prime minister Nick Clegg yesterday apologised in the House of Commons over the failure to investigate in 1972 a Catholic priest suspected of involvement in a car bomb attack in Co Derry.

Mr Clegg told MPs that Northern Secretary Owen Paterson had made “a full apology” last month for the RUC’s failures at the time.

The 1972 Co Derry attack was suspected to have been carried out by the Provisional IRA. However, following the bombing, the Royal Ulster Constabulary did not interview a Catholic priest, Fr James Chesney, even though he was suspected of involvement.

A report by Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Al Hutchinson last month found the RUC engaged in a “collusive act” in how it dealt with high-level intelligence that Fr Chesney was one of the prime suspects for the bombing.

His report detailed how the RUC, the then Northern secretary William Whitelaw and the then Catholic primate cardinal William Conway were aware Fr Chesney was a chief suspect.

The priest was transferred to Donegal after the bombing and was never interviewed by police

“The government are profoundly sorry that Fr Chesney was not properly investigated at the time for his suspected involvement in this hideous crime and that the victims and their families have quite simply been denied justice,” Mr Clegg said yesterday.

“However, I wish to reiterate that although after the attack the then government acted wrongly in not insisting that the RUC properly investigate Fr Chesney, it was terrorists who were responsible for this despicable and evil attack, which took innocent lives, including that of an eight-year-old girl.

“ has made it clear that a public inquiry is not being considered, on the grounds that there simply is not likely to be any further evidence to consider.”

The British government, said Mr Clegg, had co-operated fully with Mr Hutchinson’s investigations and made all papers available to him.

The Historical Inquiries Team is also now investigating the case, and in the interests of transparency the government has published the only document that it holds referring to discussions about Fr Chesney.

Ruling out a public inquiry into the 1972 Claudy bombing Mr Paterson said: “We are not going to have every case end up as a Bloody Sunday”.

Public inquiries into the killings of solicitor Rosemary Nelson, LVF leader Billy Wright, and Robert Hamill have so far cost £107 million (€130 million), Mr Paterson told MPs.

He said further costs would be incurred, in addition to the £200 million cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

Mr Paterson said the Wright inquiry has cost £30 million, while the Hamill inquiry has cost £32 million to date.

The inquiry into the car-bomb attack which killed Nelson has cost £45 million so far.