Don Tidey recalls 1983 kidnap 'battleground'


Former supermarket boss Don Tidey told a court today of the “battleground” that erupted around him when security forces rescued him from his kidnappers almost 25 years ago.

Mr Tidey, who is now in 70s, said that he heard a burst of gunfire, followed by more gunfire and an explosion, possibly caused by a grenade, after gardai and soldiers surrounded the hide where he had been held captive for 23 days in 1983.

And he described to the Special Criminal Court how after his rescue a Garda Inspector held a gun to his head while he confirmed his identity.

Mr Tidey, who was the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Associated British Food companies in Northern Ireland and the Republic, said that he could not identify any of his captors.

He was giving evidence on the second day of the trial of Maze prison escaper Brendan “Bik” Mc Farlane.

Mc Farlane (56),a father of three, of Jamaica Street in Belfast was arrested outside Dundalk and charged in January 1998.

He has pleaded not guilty to falsely imprisoning Mr Tidey on dates unknown between November 24th and December 16th, 1983. He also denied possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life at Derrada Wood, Drumcronan, Ballinamore, Co Leitrim between November 25th and December 16th,1983 and possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose between the same dates.

Mr Tidey told prosecuting counsel Edward Comyn SC that he left his home in his Daimler car at Woodtown Way, Rathfarnham at 7.50am on November 24th, 1983 to take his 13-year-old daughter to school and with his son Alistair in his own car behind him.

He was flagged down by a man who appeared to be a garda who asked his name and then put a gun to his head and told him to get out of his car.

Mr Tidey said he resisted but was forcibly thrown into the back of a car where people sat on him, rupturing his ribcage. He was struck heavily on the head with the butt of a weapon.

After a period of time he was put into a van and after a tortuous journey they stopped at farmland where he was interrogated about things in his diary and people who might be contacted. He was told he had been kidnapped.

He was then taken by vehicle to a destination where he was to spend his captivity. Mr Tidey said that he was manacled with his legs chained, handcuffs and a hood placed over his head.

He said that the handcuffs were “antiquated’ because they were too small for his wrists and caused him considerable pain. He was deprived of sight by a blindfold. He said that he settled into a daily routine in which he was taken to a clearing, a bucket of bog water was thrown over him and he was able to wash with some soap.

At one stage when the weather was dry he was chained to a tree with his legs and wrists manacled. He said he was given food, mainly bread, occasionally jam and once or twice a segment of fruit. He was also given tea and soup.

He said that during his captivity his business suit and fine cotton shirt was replaced with a thick shirt and combat style clothing and he was given Wellington boots stuffed with straw to keep his feet warm.

He said that on the 22nd day of his captivity the routine changed and it was clear that his captors were concerned about noise.

On the 23rd day his hood was removed and replaced with a balaclava and his legs were unchained. He was aware of noise and movement and heard voices and the sound of dogs.

He understood that the security forces were closing in on them and he heard someone ask another person about identifying people.

“There was a burst of gunfire, then more gunfire, and frankly from that moment on it became a battleground,” he said. “It changed immediately because once firing had broken out everybody made their own arrangements. My arrangement under fire was to hit the ground, which I did. I rolled down an incline into bracken and took in my circumstances.

“There was gunfire. There was to the best of my recollection an explosion which I judged was a grenade.”

“When I looked up I was looking into the muzzle of a weapon just a short distance from my forehead. The situation froze. I looked along the length of the barrel and saw a soldier. Behind the soldier I saw a young guard or maybe two.”

Mr Tidey said that he said :“I am a hostage” and pointed to his chest.

He said he learned subsequently that the soldier and garda thought he was going for a gun and he added;“By the grace of God he didn’t pull the trigger.”

He said the soldier and garda did not recognise him and he was taken across several fields losing his trousers and boots in the process. “I was led for two or three hundred yards across the field where I was delivered into the hands of the Task Force who took some time to determine I was who I was.”

He said he met Sergeant Nacie Rice and Inspector Bill Somers. Inspector Somers “held a gun to my head to ascertain who I was", he told the court.

Mr Tidey said that a car then approached them at speed and the occupants opened fire on them with automatic weapons. He and Inspector Somers jumped to the ground but a soldier was hit in the legs. Mr Tidey said he could not identify any of his captors.

Susan O’Gallagher (nee Tidey), also gave evidence of the events on the day her father was kidnapped as he took her to school.

Don Tidey’s son Alistair gave evidence that he was driving behind his father’s car which had almost crashed into his as his father reversed away from the first man in garda uniform.

Mc Farlane was the OC (officer commanding) of the Provisional IRA prisoners at the Maze prison at the time of the hunger strike in 1981 and escaped in the mass break out by 38 prisoners from the jail in September, 1983. He was later arrested in Amsterdam in January, 1986, extradited to Northern Ireland and released on parole from the Maze in 1997. He was arrested by gardai outside Dundalk in January , 1998 as he travelled back to Belfast from Dublin following a trip to Copenhagen.

Mr Tidey was kidnapped by an IRA gang in 1983 and rescued after 23 days in captivity. A trainee garda, Gary Sheehan (23), of Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan and a member of the Defence Forces, Private Patrick Kelly(35), from Moate, Co Westmeath were killed in a shoot-out with the kidnap gang when Mr Tidey was rescued.

The trial continues tomorrow.