The former commanding officer of the two former British soldiers directly involved in the shooting of a 15-year-old boy in Derry has expressed his sorrow to the family of the deceased teenager, but said he would not accept the killing had been unjustified.
Manus Deery was shot in the back of the head by William Glasgow, a private in the British Army deployed in Derry in May 1972. Glasgow, who died in 2001, was identified for the first time this week. He maintained until his death that he fired at what appeared to be a gunman 200 metres away, but “missed” and that the “stray bullet” killed the boy.
The original inquest into the death returned an open verdict. However, in 2012, the Attorney General, John Larkin, ordered that a fresh inquest into the shooting should take place. That inquest is ongoing and is expected to last two weeks.
Major Trevor Wilson was then commander of C Company of the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters when the fatal shooting occurred 44 years ago. Asked that given the British Army’s own rules of engagement and the fact at the time of the shooting of Manus, there was no incoming fire towards the British Army post in a built up urban environment, was it justifiable for Glasgow to shoot at a target almost 200 metres away.
Major Wilson said: “It comes back to the individuals at that time. If he believed that the person was going to fire then he acted correctly.” Asked if he had thought about whether there was any justification for the shooting he replied: “I didn’t think about it. Not until about 18 months ago.”
The soldier who ordered the fatal shooting also faced the victim’s family for the first time. The day after the shooting, he gave a statement in which he described spotting a man through a telescope carrying a rifle in his hand.
Identified as soldier ‘B’, he accepted that at no point did the “gunman” take up an offensive or firing position. He said he observed this via a telescope over a period of just a few seconds. He then consulted with Glasgow who also looked through the telescope and then, “let go a shot.”
Neither soldier was ever prosecuted, despite an official admission that the British Army’s own ‘yellow card’ guidelines - stating when the military can open fire - had been broken.
The former soldier admitted that he had not received training in using firearms in built up urban areas, and that no rifle scope or night sights been attached to the guns used on the night in question.
Asked if he had ever breached or saw any other soldier breach the rules of engagement, he insisted, “no.”
He admitted that specific training about the situation in the Bogside was virtually nonexistent before his regiment arrived in Derry. He said: “We were told there were some very naughty people in there or, should I say, some dodgy people.”
He was also asked if, in the intervening years, he had been contacted by any other parties in relation to the incident. He said he had not but revealed that two representatives of the British Ministry of Defence had visited his home and asked him about the case -- but they never contacted him after that meeting.
The woman who saw the British Army fatally shoot a 15-year-old boy in Derry earlier told the inquest how she held his head and prayed into his ears as he took his final breaths.
Margaret McCauley (then McCool) was among a number of civilian witnesses who gave evidence. Just 14 years old at the time, she said she was standing right behind Manus when he was hit by a single bullet, fired from a British Army observation point on the Derry Walls, overlooking the Bogside.
“I was leaning on Manus’s shoulder when I heard a piercing sound and then Manus fell back. I thought he was mucking about, but then everyone was squealing,” she said.
“I put my hand under his head, and my hand was covered in blood. I remember crying and I prayed into his ear.
“I said the Our Father and the Hail Mary and, looking back, I think he was already dead.”
FIGHT FOR JUSTICE
Helen Deery, Manus’s sister, said of the inquest: “For 44 years, my family have fought for justice. We finally seem to be getting somewhere with the opening of this inquest. Manus was an innocent child whose young life was brutally taken from him. He did nothing wrong.
“At the beginning, the British Army claimed that he was a gunman - that wasn’t true. He wasn’t rioting either. Manus was eating a bag of chips and chatting to his friends when a soldier opened fire on him.”
Neither Glasgow nor ‘soldier B’ had to appear at the original 1973 inquest at which the family weren’t legally represented. The soldiers’ depositions - later given to the family - were illegible.
“We fought for years to see the RUC investigation file. When we eventually got it, we couldn’t believe it,” she said. “There was a statement from our mother ‘Margaret’. Our mother’s name was Mary and the RUC had never taken a statement from her.
“There was also a statement from Manus’s ‘cousin James’. We have no cousin James.”
Helen said that her brother’s shooting had destroyed her family. “I was only 13 when Manus was killed,” she said. “He was a boy’s boy. He loved music, cowboy books and wee girls.
“He was always playing truant from school and raiding orchards for apples. Everything changed for ever on the night that Manus was taken from us.
“I came home from babysitting to find my mother sedated in my father’s arms. Losing their son took a massive toll on my parents’ health. They were never the same again.
“When they passed away, the rest of us pledged to continue the campaign to have the truth told about what happened to Manus. We have been through so much over the years, our hearts have been broken so many times. We don’t want to get our hopes up too high with this inquest, but we are cautiously optimistic that the truth will at last be told.”
The previous inquest returned an open verdict. The family hope that this one will conclude that the Derry teenager was unlawfully killed.
Helen said Manus had received his first pay packet hours before he was killed. She said: “Manus had his own money in his pocket for the first time in his life. That evening, life seemed full of promise for him. He had everything in front of him.
“He bought a Bee Gees’ record with his wages, and gave my mother some money. He went out to see his friends. He had a Commando comic tucked into the back of his trousers. He knew he would be meeting Margaret McCool - a wee girl he was mad about - and he didn’t want her to know he was still reading comics.”
“Margaret McCool held his head in her lap as he lay dying. That was always a comfort to us,” said Helen.