The Pat Finucane Centre has said documents it has obtained show that the British Ministry of Defence knew that a man shot dead by the British Army in November 1971 was innocent, but his family was never told.
Christopher Quinn was shot dead in Belfast’s Unity Flats area when soldiers opened fire.
A memo sent by the Ministry of Defence legal department shows compensation of £10,000 had been advised.
However, Mr Quinn’s widow was offered an out of court settlement of only £750. The amount she eventually received was just £500.
A handwritten note from Mrs Quinn lists how the money will be allocated: £300 for funeral expenses and £50 for each of her four children.
A document sent by a British official, dated September 1977, spoke of a ‘gunman’ being seen and that “it is fairly certain that Quinn was not involved... but simply got in the way.”
“We knew that the chances of winning the case were not good, as a jury is likely to be sympathetic with a widow left with a young family to support, however, we felt that the onus should be put upon the plaintiff to prove her case in court. Thus we would be seen to support the soldiers’ action... [The settlement] would reflect well on the MoD from a political viewpoint.”
Paul O’Connor, from the Pat Finucane Centre, a human rights advocacy and lobbying group, said it reflected a “clear policy” of settling out of court in order to avoid judgements which cast the British Army in a bad light.
He said the Quinn family never realised that the MoD had accepted the victim was innocent and as a result they did not receive the money or acknowledgement they deserved.
Mr Quinn’s daughter, Roberta O’Neill, said: “My mummy never got over it. We went to the graveyard every day with my mother after school - a few times we were even locked in the graveyard.
“My mummy worked day and night - she had three cleaning jobs and would queue at the post office at 8am waiting to get money to send us to school.
“She taught us decency and respect which is more than she got. I used to sleep walk all the time because I was afraid of losing my mummy afterwards.
“My dad was shot only yards from our house and we had to walk past the spot every day.
“These documents show they knew he was innocent, but they lied to us all these years.”