Police investigate priest's role in Claudy bombing

 

An allegation that a Catholic priest masterminded the IRA bombing in Claudy 30 years ago that left nine people dead is being treated seriously by police.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde is tonight investigating the shock allegations that a now deceased priest was behind one of the worst terrorist atrocities Northern Ireland has seen since the troubles started in 1969.

It has been claimed the cleric admitted being in charge of the IRA team which carried out the attack in the village of Claudy, Co Derry in l972.

The confession, it has been alleged, was made to another priest in neighbouring Co Donegal who has now contacted the Belfast-based newspaper the News Letter.

He said he went to see the priest at Malin Head at the end of the summer of l972, not long after the bombing.

In his letter, the English-born priest wrote: "I met a changed man. We talked long into the evenings about the situation in the north and then, one evening John broke down in a flood of tears and said he had a terrible story to tell.

"I listened in silence to what he had to say and now recount as well as I can what he told me.

"He said that he was horrified at the injustices done to the Catholic people and decided to do something for the people. He became a member of the IRA and was soon in charge of a small number of volunteers.

"His unit was ordered from Derry city to plant bombs in Claudy to ease the pressure on the IRA in the city, and so they planted the bombs. It was their intention to phone a warning as they passed through Dungiven on the way home, but found that all the telephones were out of order. When he heard what happened in Claudy he was horrified."

The priest later moved to Malin Head.

In his letter to the News Letter'sDerry correspondent Ian Starrett and the city's Deputy Mayor Mary Hamilton, who survived the outrage, the priest said they both prayed for forgiveness and for the victims of Claudy.

He added: "I advised him to make his peace with God. He told me a lot of his work in the IRA and the names of some of the volunteers and he was afraid, if any of them were arrested by the police and tortured, they would break. I told him I wanted to hear no more, and he left early the following morning.

"I never saw him again and we had no more contact."

He died some years later in Donegal, according to the priest.

News Lettereditor Geoff Martin said tonight he was satisfied the letter was genuine, saying he was aware of the identities of both priests.

The letter, he said, would be passed to the Chief Constable and the Northern Ireland police Ombudsman, Ms Nuala O'Loan.

Mr Martin said: "We are shocked by the contents of the letter. Obviously we have been at great pains to establish the authenticity and credibility of the writer. We are in no doubt that it is genuine."

A spokesman for Mr Orde said: "The inquiry is still open and any information brought to police attention will be properly and fully investigated."

The priest told Mr Starrett: "I am an old man now and I must meet my maker with a clear conscience.

"The souls of the deceased are crying now, not for vengeance but for justice. If what this Father told me is true - and I have no reason to doubt his word - this was collusion of the most sinful kind and, as Christians, we have a duty to put things right with God."

PA