Stormont Cabinet decided not to call in Scotland Yard to investigate man's death

 

The death of a man regarded as the first victim of the Northern Troubles dominated a meeting of the Stormont Cabinet on February 19th, 1970. The 30-year old Catholic civilian, Mr John Gallagher, was shot dead in Armagh by members of a B Special platoon on August 14th, 1969, following a Civil Rights demonstration in the city.

Details of the Cabinet meeting are contained in one of the 709 files released by the Public Record Office in Belfast yesterday under the 30-year rule.

At the meeting, the Northern Ireland prime minister, Maj James Chichester-Clark, recalled that the British home secretary, Mr James Callaghan, had suggested at their recent talks on February 4th that consideration should be given to calling in Scotland Yard in the Gallagher case.

The decision was really one for the RUC chief constable, Sir Arthur Young.

However, in view of the political overtones, Sir Arthur felt he should ascertain the views of ministers. The minister of home affairs, Mr Robert Porter, and the attorney-general, Mr Basil Kelly QC, outlined the main considerations: insufficient evidence to justify a prosecution for manslaughter or murder against any member of the Tynan Platoon of B Specials suspected of being responsible; further and more recent evidence to suggest that a case of unlawful shooting could probably be substantiated; and the fact that the Inspector-General was satisfied that the RUC had investigated the case thoroughly and impartially. The argument for seeking the assistance of Scotland Yard was that, as its efforts were unlikely to take the case any further, the RUC would be vindicated and an answer given to Catholic allegations that the local police were at fault in not pressing the case with vigour. On the other hand, once called in it might be difficult to limit Scotland Yard intervention to one isolated case in view of the charges of police culpability which had been made in a number of other cases.

No doubt, pressure would also come from extreme Protestants for Scotland Yard to render similar assistance in the case of unsolved murders of Protestants.

In discussion, it was pointed out that to call in Scotland Yard now, after such a long lapse and in face of Civil Rights' demands for this step, would be seen as a further act of appeasement. Moreover, the Armagh shootings would be investigated by the Scarman tribunal, which would have powers to subpoena witnesses, including B Specials present at the time.

Sir Arthur joined the Cabinet meeting and gave his views.

He said the case for calling for outside assistance was finely balanced: it might do some good and it could not do much harm. If a decision inviting Scotland Yard to assist were to be taken he would like it announced quickly in the hope of lowering the temperature at a forthcoming Civil Rights march in Armagh on February 21st. The decision had some relevance to the situation he was currently facing in the Falls Road area. New and serious allegations had been made to him about police action during the August riots of the previous year.

When he asked for evidence in order to carry out investigations, he was told that he was expected to live up to his promise to have such investigations carried out by an officer from another force and that the evidence could not be handed over until this was confirmed. The Chief Constable said that while, on balance, he would be inclined to call in Scotland Yard in the Gallagher case, he did not feel that the advantages were more than minimal and, therefore, did not feel he could press his views in face of the difficulties envisaged by Ministers. As a result, no action was taken and the Gallagher case remains unsolved to this day.

Dr Eamon Phoenix is senior lecturer in history at Stranmillis University College and author of Northern Nationalism (1994) and A Century of Northern Life: The Irish News and 100 Years of Ulster History (1996). He is also a broadcaster on Irish political affairs.