Plastic bullet killings a ‘British national secret’


Files on the deaths of nationalist children at the hands of plastic bullets have been closed for a further 50 years for reasons the British government have refused to disclose.

The family of 14-year-old Julie Livingstone, who was killed by a plastic bullet in 1981, said the sealing of her National Archives file for generations means “nobody who ever knew her will be alive by then”.

Julie was returning from a shop on the Stewartstown Road in west Belfast when she was struck by a plastic bullet fired from a British army vehicle. She died the next day.

The file of 15-year-old Paul Whitters - who died in April 1981, 10 days after being struck by a plastic bullet fired by the then RUC police in Derry - has also been closed for 40 years and a general file on plastic bullets has been closed until 2071.

It is understood the British government ordered that the files remain secret on the grounds of ‘national security’.

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice called for the British Direct Ruler Karen Bradley to order the release of the files.

“All families who have experienced state violence know that the British government will go to any length to protect its own interest,” he said.

“This strategic policy of impunity for the killing of Irish children clearly extends even to librarians and archives keepers. They too are complicit in the policies that accompany British state violence.

“This decision, undoubtedly made under direction, was made while families are asked to engage in a consultation on dealing with the past. This discovery points to the bad faith behind this consultation, as well as displaying the callous indifference of those responsible.

“The least Karen Bradley can do now is meet with the families of Julie Livingstone and Paul Whitters. The very least the keeper of the archives can do under Bradley’s instruction is give the families these files.”

Julie’s sister, Elizabeth Livingstone, said her sister was “going about her own business” when she was shot and killed.

“What could they possibly not want us to know about it?”, she said. “It’s not a case of `are they hiding something?’ This is about what’s being hidden. It’s obviously something that would prove an embarrassment to the British government.”

Fifteen-year-old Paul Whitters was shot in the head with a plastic bullet fired by a member of the RUC in Derry 38 years ago. He died in hospital 10 days later after his family made the decision to turn off his life-support machine.

His mother, Helen Whitters, revealed that witnesses to the shooting of her son recalled that other RUC members had congratulated her son’s killer after the shooting.

“They came out of the workers entrance gate at Brewster’s Bakery on Great James’s Street as a group. He knelt down and fired the shot. I wasn’t there but I was told that the said to the policeman who fired ‘well done Davy.’ Is that what they are trying to hide in the file?”

She said they dragged her fatally wounded son by the arms and legs behind the gates of the bakery. “You wouldn’t treat a dog that way. If a dog was injured people who had concern for it would come and get it treatment and treat it in a dignified manner.

“So, what are they trying to hide in this file? There was nothing in his background that made it necessary to have a file on him. Even my children will be gone in 2059 when they open this file. They obviously want us all gone before that file is made public.”

Ahead of the anniversary of his death, she has written to Karen Bradley, appealing directly to her to “urgently” review the file’s status.

In her letter Helen writes: “I brought Paul into this world. When this file is opened on January 1st, 2059, I will not be alive. No one will still be alive who actually knew Paul as the lovely, handsome, caring, intelligent young man that he was.

“Your government does not have the right to withhold this from my family. You do not have the right to withhold this from his two brothers and sister.”

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