Peggy Deery’s family to receive damages

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The family of the only woman to be shot on Bloody Sunday, are to be awarded nearly £270,000 in damages.

The injuries suffered by Mrs Deery, a mother-of-14, caused her to suffer health problems for the rest of her life.

A High Court judge ruled that her estate should receive the payout for the injuries sustained in the British Army massacre in Derry in January 1972 and subsequent years of mental distress.

Fourteen people involved in a peaceful civil rights demonstration against internment died when British soldiers opened fire on the crowd. A further 15 were injured.

Justice McAlinden described the behaviour of the British soldiers who wounded and verbally abused Mrs Deery as “imbued with a degree of malevolence and flagrancy which was truly exceptional”.

Aged 38 at the time, Mrs Deery was shot in the leg on Bloody Sunday by a paratrooper who would have known she posed no threat. She was carried into a house to be treated by members of the Knights of Malta.

The court heard that soldiers then entered the property and directed foul language at the widow, stating that she “deserved it” and declaring: “Let the ***** bleed to death.”

Mrs Deery, who lost her husband to cancer months before Bloody Sunday, had been raising 14 children aged between eight months and 16 years old.

She spent four months in hospital, developed a chronic kidney disease and was effectively housebound for the rest of her life, the judge was told.

Her oldest children had to assume responsibility for her care and the rest of the family.

One daughter, Helen Deery, told the court how they carried out cooking and cleaning duties in a house with no central heating or washing machine.

“We had to do everything,” she said. With no help provided by social services, on one occasion the family was actually fined for non-attendance at school.

Relatives of Mrs Deery sued the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the injuries that contributed to her death of a heart attack in 1988.

With liability accepted, the case centred on a dispute over the appropriate level of damages.

A barrister representing the British government alleged that she had brought her injury and death upon herself.

In his judgment Justice McAlinden noted Mrs Deery was a woman of good character who attended the civil rights march in support of a society based on fairness and equality.

“Any claim that she was anything other than an innocent demonstrator was a fabrication constructed and perpetuated by the perpetrator or perpetrators of a wrong in an attempt to avoid personal or collective responsibility for any wrongdoing,” he said.

But having died long before the second Bloody Sunday Inquiry was set up, “the cloud of imputed culpability would, at least to some extent, have cast an intermittent shadow over her”.

Awarding £250,000 to Mrs Deery’s estate, the judge added a further £17,028 in special damages for the cost of care provided to her.

Peggy Deery’s experience on Bloody Sunday was only one chapter in her struggle as a working-class mother in the face of British oppression and unionist discrimination.

Three months before she died, the funeral of her son Paddy was infamously attacked by the RUC police, who fired plastic bullets and baton-charged the cortege, leading to 20 mourners suffering a range of injuries.

Her life became the subject of a biography by journalist and former neighbour Nell McCafferty, who saw her leave to attend the civil rights march at which she was shot.

“I often think of the two of them, people of no property, of little education, few prospects,” she recalled later. “But the majesty of [those people] and the thousands who joined them, setting out that day saying `I am a first class citizen of the world and I will have my rights’.”

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