45 years for the truth
45 years for the truth


Rulings that the murder of 11-year-old British Army victim Francis Rowntree was ‘not justified’ and that the rubber bullets fired at him were lethal have been widely welcomed, although 45 years late and following the recent death of his mother.

Theresa Rowntree, who had long campaigned for the truth to be revealed about her young son’s death in 1972, died in a Belfast nursing home in March - just months before this week’s verdict.

Francis, a pupil at St Finian’s Primary School, was shot in the head by a rubber bullet on 20 April 1972 while walking through the Divis Flats complex close to the Falls Road in west Belfast, and died two days later.

His wounds included skull fractures and lacerations of the brain, in preliminary inquest findings revealed this week.

The soldier who fired the rubber bullet used “excessive force”, coroner Brian Sherrard said.

Eye witnesses, including a British Army officer instructing the soldiers, told the court that a crowd gathered around a vehicle carrying a number of soldiers which stopped in the area. A number of children had come to watch the disturbance out of curiosity.

The court also heard that two rounds of rubber bullets were fired by a soldier to “disperse” the crowd, and that one of the bullets hit the boy’s head. No warning was given before the shots were fired.

The Coroner noted the soldier was not given any training in the use of the bullets or made aware they were potentially lethal.

However, Francis’s death did not alter or diminish British strategy in their efforts to control nationalist areas using rubber and plastic bullets.

Over the next 17 years, the weapons were responsible for another 16 deaths. Eight of the fatalities, including Francis - a primary school pupil in west Belfast - were children, ranging in age from 15 to ten. This week’s ruling could have implications for the families of the other victims.

His older brother Jim said his family had finally got “a bit of closure” after 45 years.

“This is the first time that they have decided this gun was lethal. The government had denied it but now it’s down in black and white,” he said.

“It’s an awful thing that my mother couldn’t have seen it. She died in March. She knew she was right. She’s looking down on us now - her and Frank.”

Mr Rowntree said he now wanted an official apology from the British Ministry of Defence.

The family later issued a statement through their lawyer, Padraig O Muirigh.

“Many young children were killed and maimed by the rubber bullet and its successor, the plastic bullet,” the statement said. “Their use, free from regulation and training, amounted to a systemic abuse of human rights.

“These findings are not only a legal victory for the Rowntree family but for all those who campaigned for many years for these lethal weapons to be banned.”

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