Bittersweet conclusion to Miami Showband case

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A survivor of the Miami Showband massacre has spoken out against British lies as he and other victims of the atrocity agreed to a historic settlement of £1.5m in damages for Britain’s collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the massacre.

However, the British government is still refusing to publicly admit its role.

Three members of the Miami Showband were killed by a gang involving serving British soldiers in a bomb and gun attack when their bus was stopped near Newry in 1975 as they travelled back to Dublin from a gig.

Stephen Travers, who was injured in the attack, said he believed his civil case against the British Ministry of Defence and the PSNI showed there had been planned collaboration between the killers and the soldiers.

He said he agreed to settle only because of the ‘amnesty’ plan by the British government to bar all legal actions relating to the conflict.

The law suits, which sought damages for assault, trespass, conspiracy to injure, negligence, and misfeasance in public office, were settled at the Belfast High Court on Monday. Four victims or their families are to receive between £325,000 and £425,000 in damages, as well as their full legal costs.

Mr Travers said he had to take into consideration the threat of the current British government to shut down all cases with the command paper set out in July, which he said threatened “to dispense with justice rather than to dispense justice”.

“Our case proves that it is not easy to get into court,” he said. The argument that they are ‘vexatious’ claims being taken against the British government ... is a complete lie.”

“It took us 10 years to get them kicking and screaming into court. So all this is completely false,” he added.

The Miami Showband were one of Ireland’s most famous showbands at the time. Their tour bus was stopped by an apparent Crown Force patrol made up of serving soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and members of the unionist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Band members were forced to line up at the side of the road while attempts were made to hide a bomb on the bus.

The device exploded prematurely, killing some members of the death squad.

Their accomplices then opened fire on the band, murdering the lead singer, Fran O’Toole, the guitarist Tony Geraghty and the trumpeter Brian McCoy. Two other band members, Des McAlea and Mr Travers, were injured but survived.

A report by the Historical Enquiries Team into the incident pointed to collusion by a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch agent. It found that the notorious UVF boss Robin “The Jackal” Jackson, a one-time UDR member who died in 1998, had been linked to one of the murder weapons by fingerprints.

Jackson, an RUC agent linked to scores of murders, later revealed he had been tipped off by a senior police figure to lie low after the killings. He went on trial but was subsequently acquitted. Two serving members of the UDR were eventually convicted for their part in the attack.

Mr Travers will receive £425,000 in damages, while Mr McAlea will receive £325,000. The personal representatives of Fran O’Toole and Brian McCoy are to receive £375,000 and £325,000 respectively. All four were awarded legal costs.

Powerful victim impact statements were delivered by the wounded band members and those bereaved in the atrocity.

Mr Travers told the court about his “great adventure” travelling to shows with band mates who became close friends during the “hot summer of ‘75”.

“I loved playing with them, it was a brilliant, exciting band,” he said.

Recalling his murdered musical colleagues, Mr Travers said: “Sadly my abiding memories of these three talented young men, who I had just been on stage with playing Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet, are forever fused with the most horrific, ever-present images imaginable.”

From the age of 24 his life was defined by a “terrible, premature sadness”.

Mr McAlea said they had finally obtained justice after 46 years. He also described the “enormous” impact on his mental and physical health.

“I wake up to these murders every day of my life,” he said. “There are photographs of Fran, Brian and Tony in my apartment. That night will live with me until the day I die.”

He added: “Every time I journey to the south of Ireland I stop at the scene of the massacre. It is very painful, I lay flowers and I say my prayers.

“Before I die, I want to see a monument in Northern Ireland to Fran, Brian and Tony. They must never be forgotten.”

Fran O’Toole’s daughter, Rachel O’Toole, travelled from her home in Vancouver, Canada for the hearing.

In a statement read by her barrister, Brian Fee QC, she told how her family was left “broken” by the killings.

“The Miami Showband were lured on their way home into an insidious trap, leaving three friends murdered,” Ms O’Toole said.

She told the court her father had little interest in politics and was completely opposed to violence.

“The fact he was killed by UVF terrorists who knew nothing about him, causes my family even deeper anguish when we learn the extent to which security forces colluded in the events which led to his death,” she added.

“The plan to plant a bomb on the band’s minibus, and detonate it once they crossed the border, to cause even more innocent people’s deaths, and re-write the Miami Showband’s identities as terrorists, is heinous.”

Brian McCoy’s widow, Helen, described how she never got over his murder.

“Des and Stephen have told me that the rest of the band regarded Brian as a father-figure, because he was always sensible and kind,” she said in her statement.

“He had the same qualities and more, as a husband and father. Our lives were turned upside down when he was murdered.

“I am not bitter, but I want all those who colluded in his murder to know how much they damaged our lives. Collusion with the UVF terrorists was simply wrong.”

Paying tribute to the victims, Justice McAlinden said he hoped they may gain some relief from the pain suffered for so long.

He stated: “I have heard my difficult cases, but the comments expressed to me today will remain with me throughout the rest of my career and indeed throughout the rest of my life.”

In a message posted on social media later, Mr Travers wrote that on the way home from the High Court, he stopped at the scene of the massacre “to say a prayer and to tell Tony and Fran and Brian that I hope they can now, finally, leave that field forever”.

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