Prisoners’ campaigner remembered on fortieth anniversary

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Tributes have been paid to former British soldier John Turnley who campaigned for Irish republican prisoners before being shot dead by a loyalist paramilitary death squad linked to the British Army’s SAS regiment.

Mr Turnley was shot dead in the County Antrim village of Carnlough 40 years ago in an attack blamed on the unionist paramilitary UDA.

A Protestant who came from a unionist background, Mr Turnley had been a member of the SDLP before helping to found the Irish Independence Party.

He was also involved in the National H-Block Committee, which campaigned for republican prisoners as they were engaged in a dirty protest in demand of political status. He was one of four members of the H-Block committee murdered by loyalists in 1980. The murder took place just months before the start of the first (1980) hunger strike.

The 44-year-old was gunned down as he was being dropped off by his family for a council meeting in Carnlough on June 4 1980. Three men were later convicted of his murder and that of Catholic man Rodney McCormick, who was shot dead in Larne in August 1980.

In 2016 it emerged that one of the three convicted, William McClelland, had been a member of the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

Brothers Robert and Eric McConnell were also convicted for their part in the murders. During his 1982 trial Robert McConnell admitted he had been working for the SAS, and said they supplied him with weapons, uniforms and listening devices.

Causeway Coast Sinn Féin councillor and Carnlough native Oliver McMullan said Mr Turnley was highly regarded in the area.

“I was young at the time and I remember John about,” he said. “He did a lot of good work. John was well liked and still to this day is well liked. He spoke to people the right way and he was well mannered, people took to him well.”

Mr McMullan acknowledged Mr Turnley’s courage. “It was a brave step for someone from his background, to do what he done.”

Mr Turnley was one of several prison H-Block campaigners targeted by the UDA operating in collusion with British forces. They included former IRSP member Miriam Daly (45), who was killed weeks later on June 26 at her home in west Belfast; IRSP members Ronnie Bunting (32) and Noel Little (45) both shot dead at a house in west Belfast that October; and former IRSP member and H-Block campaigner Bernadette McAliskey, who was injured in a gun attack at her County Tyrone home in January 1981.

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