The truth about Billy McKavanagh

An unarmed Catholic man shot dead by the British army 40 years ago was innocent of any wrongdoing, an inquiry has found.

Belfast man Billy McKavanagh was shot in the back as he ran away from British soldiers in the Markets area on August 11 1971, two days after the original introduction of internment without trial.

The British government is now being urged to apologise after a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) found he was unarmed and uninvolved in conflict when he was shot dead near his south Belfast home.

The 21-year-old was walking along Catherine Street with his older brother Pat and a cousin when he was gunned down by a soldier who later claimed he was carrying a weapon.

Seconds before the shooting the trio had picked up several items stolen by looters, including a pair of waders, from the road.

When confronted by soldiers the trio dropped the items and ran before they were fired on.

Mr McKavanagh, who lived a shortd istance away in Henrietta Street with his mother and twin sister Margaret, died a short time later as his older brother cradled him in his arms.

After the shooting, the British Army falsely claimed the dead man was a member of the IRA.

In a report made public yesterday, the 40th anniversary of his death, the HET dismissed claims he was armed and said Mr McKavanagh was “an innocent man who did nothing more than pick up a pair of waders that had been stolen by someone else, and then ran away” when confronted by the British Army.

The dead man’s sister Eilish Morris said her family were “delighted” with the report’s findings but insisted the government should now make an apology to them.

“The apology is vital. We want that apology and we deserve an apology and the HET has told us themselves we deserve an apology. We have gone this far so we will not stop until we get it,” she said.

“My mum Margaret was heart-broken alter Billy died. She had several heart attacks in the years after his death and I think she eventually died of a broken heart in 1984.

“Pat never got over it until the day he died nine years ago. He told us he had flashbacks every single day. I am just sorry that my brother and mother are not here to see this day but we are thinking of them.”

The dead man’s twin sister, Margaret Duffy, said she knew instinctively he was dead in the hours after the shooting.

“People were coming into our house the morning after he was shot and saying to my mother ‘he’s not dead’.

“I said, ‘Mammy, will you listen? He is dead’,” she said.

“I just felt this weight and I knew he was gone. I knew he was shot in the back and when the postmortem results came back it showed he had been shot in the back.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said it had requested a copy of the report “in order to consider the family’s request further”.

South Belfast Sinn Fein Assembly member Alex Maskey described the report as “an absolute vindication” for the McKavanagh family and “an exposure of a 40 year old British State lie”.

“Everyone in the community in the Markets knew the truth about the murder of Billy McKavanagh,” he said.

“Billy McKavanagh was an unarmed man shot dead by the British Army in cold blood.

“For 40 years the British State has stuck to the lie that Billy McKavanagh was an armed IRA volunteer. The HET report today lays this lie bare.

“Billy McKavangh was not a member of the IRA and he was not armed when he was shot. Republicans made this clear at the time of the murder and in the years since.

“The British State now needs to act on this HET report, accept the reality of the situation and apologise to the McKavanagh family.”

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© 2011 Irish Republican News