Statement by the Diocese of Derry Re: Recent media coverage of the involvement of deceased priest of the Derry Diocese in the 1972 Claudy bombing
A spokesperson for the Derry Diocese has made the following comments regarding the letter received by Mrs Hamilton and Mr Ian Starrett of the Newsletter:
* The letter is not signed, does not give a proper address of the author, nor does it give the full name of the “priest author”.
* It is disappointing, to say the least, that a leading newspaper should devote its lead article and editorial to a story that is based on what is essentially an anonymous letter of questionable credibility and which contains obvious inaccuracies.
* Rumours as to a priest of the Derry Diocese being involved in the 1972 Claudy bombing have been circulating for more than twenty years but there has never been any evidence to substantiate these rumours.
* It is also disappointing that the name of a deceased priest of the Derry Diocese has been maligned by such means.
* If the author does exist and if he/she can present credible evidence, he/she should do so to immediately to the Northern Ireland Police Service.
* The Claudy bombing was one of the most dreadful atrocities of the past 30 years. As a diocese we offer our sympathy to all the victims and their families who have suffered and continue to suffer.
* The Catholic Church in Ireland, and especially in Northern Ireland, has consistently and vigorously condemned violence. It continues to do so. It must be stated clearly that the Church has never colluded in violence nor with the perpetrators of violence.
I attach an exact photocopy of the letter received by Mrs Hamilton
18 September 2002
Rev. Kevin McElhennon
Diocesan Secretary and Spokesperson
Tel: (028) 71262302
(From South: (048) 71262302)
EXACT PHOTOCOPY OF THE LETTER RECEIVED BY MRS HAMILTON
Dear Mrs. Hamilton,
A friend sent me the News Letter of 31st July which has an article on the Bombing of Claudy in 1972.
This article reawakened the horrible memories I have of the event.
Now let me explain who I am and why I am writing to you.
I am a Catholic Priest in a parish in England and have been here since IWas ordained. I was born in the North of Ireland and attended the Seminary with the late Father John Chesney who was from Maghera.We were not close but as we were both from the North we had somethingin common. John was sent to South Derry and moved in many parishesthere, we exchanged cards at Christmas and Easter. I think John was in Bellaghy in the early part of 1970 and I had a letter from him and he was
complaining about the situation in the North. He was very bitter about the British Army and blamed them for most of the trouble, he appeared to hate the English people and I didn’t like his tone as I have some wonderful Christian English friends here.
In the middle of 1972 I had a letter from John and he told me he had been sent to Malen Head in Donegal and asked that I call to see him the next time I was home, he would like to speak to me as a matter of some urgency.
At the end of the summer of 1972 I was up to Malin Head. 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.
John 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 to 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 telephones were out of order. When he heard of what happened in Claudy he was horrified.
Shortly after Claudy he got word from a friend in Derry City that the police were unto him and with the help of a senior police officer and the Bishop he got a posting to Malin Head. He named the police officer but I forget the name but I think it was Lennon or something like that. When I heard this I was speechless and we both prayed for forgiveness and for the victims of Claudy. I advised him to make his peace with God.
John 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 left early the following morning. I never saw John again and we had no more contact.
Some years after this John died in Donegal. I didn’t go to the funeral but I think he was buried at Maghera.
This horrible affair has been with me now for thirty ears and it has been hanging over me like a black cloud. I must talk to someone in authority before I die, I am an old man now and I must meet my maker with a clear conscience. The souls of the deceased are crying not for vengeance but for Justice.
If what Father John 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.
I most earnestly appeal to you as a public representative to make a complaint to the Ombudsman in Belfast so that this awful deed is properly investigated. If you do this and the papers print that the Ombudsman is investigating Claudy then I am prepared to reveal myself and fully co-operate in the investigation. I will tell all I know of the IRA murders in Claudy.
I should say that earlier this year I wrote to the Sunday World and told them what I have said to you, but hey did nothing.
May God be with you forever,
Yours Father Liam
P.S. I have sent a copy of this letter to Mr. Ian Starrett who wrote the moving article in the News Letter. He could help you in this. L