Civilian’s death was caused by rubber bullet

RUC commander gave the order to fire on an innocent woman in the street

Douglas Hurd: RUC report, presented to the NI secretary in December 1984, reveals a housewife’s death occurred during alleged rioting on the Falls Road in 1981. Photograph: Frank Miller

Douglas Hurd: RUC report, presented to the NI secretary in December 1984, reveals a housewife’s death occurred during alleged rioting on the Falls Road in 1981. Photograph: Frank Miller


A confidential police report into the killing of an innocent civilian, Norah McCabe, by a plastic bullet fired from an RUC Land Rover at the height of the 1981 hunger strike reveals that the order to fire was given by the senior RUC commander, Chief Supt Jimmy Crutchley.

The detailed RUC report, presented to the NI secretary, Douglas Hurd, in December 1984, reveals the housewife’s death occurred at about 7.30am on July 8th, 1981, during alleged rioting on the Falls Road following the death of local IRA hunger striker Joe McDonnell.

Shortly afterwards an ambulance driver found a female lying face downward on the footpath of Linden Street at the junction of the Falls Road. She was unconscious and died later at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

A full CID investigation was mounted following a report in the Irish News that Mrs McCabe had been struck on the head by a plastic baton round fired by police when there was no rioting. A postmortem confirmed that Mrs McCabe (31) had died due to a brain laceration consistent with injuries fired by a plastic baton round.

Public disorder

The confidential report stated that following the announcement of the death of the hunger striker, extra police mobile patrols were operating in the Falls Road area. Police strategy during the period was to contain public disorder in the republican areas and keep arterial routes open.

The report reveals the central involvement of the divisional commander of B Division, Chief Supt Crutchley. He had taken direct personal control of police operations in the area from the lead Land Rover in the patrol and had given the order to fire the fatal round.

The crew claimed that it was aimed at two youths with petrol bombs and concluded that “the only plastic baton round which could have caused Mrs McCabe’s death was the one fired from Mr Crutchley’s Land Rover. The evidence as to the firing of that round indicated that it was discharged in circumstances which justified that action.”

The file reveals that on December 4th, 1981, the Director of Public Prosecution considered the evidence of two witnesses, Ellen McLennen and Jean Mooney, to the effect that Mrs McCabe was killed by a baton round fired recklessly towards her. The DPP, however, concluded that, as “no incident such as that described by [the witnesses] was admitted” therefore no prosecution was warranted.

Video evidence

At the subsequent inquest in November 1982, Pat Finucane, the solicitor for the next-of-kin, revealed the existence of a video tape which shed new light on the incident. An investigation by Det Supt Alfred Entwistle revealed that the film, made by a Canadian crew, concluded that the footage “did not show the degree of disorder on the main Falls Road as described by the police”.

However, there was evidence to prove the firer of the baton round “had deliberately discharged the weapon at Mrs McCabe”. As a result of this report, the DPP directed no prosecution in the case in a note to the chief constable, Sir Jack Hermon. In his report, Entwistle wrote: “It cannot be seriously considered that police deliberately discharged the baton round at Mrs McCabe. By all accounts she was only a few yards from the Land Rover concerned and if Mr Crutchley and the others were concentrating on her they would no doubt have seen her being struck and fall to the ground.”