The survivors of the Miami Showband atrocity have urged British soldiers who opposed collusion with loyalist paramilitaries to help an investigation into the massacre.
The band, which included Catholics and Protestants, southerners and northerners, looked destined for international success when they were flagged down at a ‘checkpoint’ as they drove to Dublin after playing a gig in Banbridge, County Down in July 1975.
Lead singer Fran O’Toole, guitarist Tony Geraghty and 33-year-old trumpet player Brian McCoy were killed in a hail of bullets. The gang opened fire after two of its members accidently blew themselves up as they attempted to plant a bomb inside the band’s bus.
The gang included a number of locally-recruited Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers who stopped the van on the A1 road in County Down. It is believed they had hatched a plan to label the band as republican bomb smugglers and provoke the 26-County government into a crackdown against the IRA.
Saxophonist Des Lee and bass player Stephen Travers managed to survive the massacre by playing dead. They are currently taking legal action against the PSNI (formerly RUC) and the British Ministry of Defence.
In the week that marked the 40th anniversary of the attack, they have appealed for former UDR soldiers to help their quest for justice. Michael Flanigan, the Belfast-based lawyer representing the survivors and bereaved families urged anyone with information to contact his office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week the survivors laid flowers at the site of the massacre. The band’s manager Brian Maguire also attended the commemoration, along with music impresario Terri Hooley, and Michael Gallagher, who lost his son Aiden in the 1998 Omagh bombing.
After laying a wreath at the spot where he narrowly avoided death, Des Lee said a formal apology should be made by the British government for collusion in the killings, who he said was responsible for the actions of serving soldiers.
Recounting the events of the terrible night, Mr Lee said that conversation at the checkpoint between the band and the gunmen had seemed good-natured.
“It was the same sort of conversations as at any roadblock, name, date of birth etc. They knew who we were. I remember one of them said `Which one of you is (former band member) Dickie Rock?’ We joked and said we had fired him. They had done their homework alright.”
As they were ordered out of the vehicle, Mr Lee asked for permission to get his saxophone, a move which he believes saved his life.
“I took it out and put it on the road. Instead of going back to the van I stood on the side of the road, and that probably saved me.
“It was at that point that two men placed a 10lb bomb inside the van which exploded. I got flung into a ditch. All I could hear was screaming and shouting and gunfire. It was absolutely horrendous.
“I held my breath for as long as possible. I then called out to Stephen and he was moaning.....I called out to Tony and Fran and got no response.”
After crying out for help, a lorry driver initially refused to stop at the scene as he “probably thought I was part of the gang.” However, a young couple in their car - who Mr Lee would like to track down to thank - stopped and took the injured musician to Newry RUC station.
He said he wanted a similar apology as that offered to the families of Bloody Sunday victims, read by British Prime Minister David Cameron in the House of Commons.
Mr Lee will perform for the final time at a tribute concert in Banbridge later this month. The Miami Showband tribute group will play a final act on Friday August 21st at the Bannville House Hotel in Banbridge, as part of the Linenfields festival.
At a ceremony in Dublin, family members of the deceased and the survivors were joined by Mayor of Dublin Criona Ni Dhalaigh, Dickie Rock and the Taoiseach’s Aide de Camp commandant Ciaran Carey as a statue was dedicated to the memory of the victims in Dublin’s Parnell Square.
Addressing the crowd present, Stephen Travers said he will never relent until the truth is revealed, and all of the perpetrators of the attack are brought to justice.
“There are some today who want us to be silent, who want us to tone down and sanitise our rhetoric,” he said.
“But if we do, those who planned, facilitated and executed the Miami Showband massacre will continue, unchallenged, to manipulate the foolish and the naive.
“We are obliged to openly bear witness to that appalling crime until those, who to this day continue to cover up their central role in it, accept responsibility for their actions and the actions of their agents... Only then will true reconciliation be possible, and our ghosts finally laid to rest.”