The Derry Four (from left) Gerry McGowan, Michael Toner, Stephen Crumlish and Gerry Kelly.
On Valentine’s Day 1979, while on foot patrol at Abercorn Road in Derry,
22-year-old Lt. Stephen Andrew Kirby, of the Royal Welch Fusiliers
was shot through the heart by a Provisional IRA sniper.
He died instantly
Michael Toner, Stephen Crumlish, Gerard Kelly and Gerry McGowan, then all teens, were arrested and charged for his murder. Here’s their story as Gerry tells it. (Sound disappears in the first vid after about 5 mins in. The rest are OK).
Michael Toner: “We were only 17 year old boys, we had just left St. Peter’s School. One day we’re leading a normal life, the next day we were in jail. Our lives were turned upside down. We were children thrown into an adult prison. We should never have been there.”
Gerry Kelly: “I had never been outside of Derry. Even going to Belfast, never mind to prison was crazy. Fear is the one word I would use to describe that journey. To be honest I was relieved when I got to prison as I’d seen enough TV to realise that if we had witnesses we’d be OK.”
The men describe their treatment at the hands of the RUC as “brutalising” – but find it difficult to discuss what occurred in the interview suite.
Michael Toner: “For us to revisit that is too difficult, We live with what happened every day since. Both the interrogations and having to live with a murder charge hanging over us.”
Gerry Kelly: “It is all very hard and we can’t just bring it up. We would look up to the police for the answers to their questions. They would ask us where were you?’ I’d ask ‘where was I?’ and they would show me on the map.”
Paul O’Connor, Pat Finucane Centre: “There is now no doubt that they were forced into signing false confessions in respect of the IRA murder of Stephen Kirby. The only outstanding issue is whether it can be proven which individual RUC interrogators were responsible for what amounts to criminal behaviour during the days and nights they were interrogated”.
The four had almost 200 witnesses corroborating their story. Many had gone to the police in the aftermath of the murder. Some reported their statements were torn up in front of them.
Gerry McGowan: “My father told me years later that every witness he convinced to go to the police was threatened with ‘Perverting the course of justice.’ Imagine!?”
Michael Toner: “The whole system was corrupt, Once you were a Catholic you didn’t stand a chance. The whole legal system was corrupt.”
Raymond McCartney, Sinn Fein: “It is well known within the Nationalist Republican community that a conveyor belt of injustice was in operation during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Many young men and women were arrested, taken to interrogation centres, forced to make confessions and brought before Diplock courts where they were sentenced to long periods in jail without corroborating evidence”.
Paul O’Connor, Pat Finucane Centre: “It was clear the system was looking at the nature of the charges compared to the evidence available. Everyone knew these boys hadn’t done it so they had to make them go away. It was easier on the system if they jumped bail. Everyone was complicit in allowing it to happen. No one would speak up.”
Refusing to accept the plea bargain, the teenagers decided to skip bail and went on the run.
Gerry Kelly: “Our lives were turned upside down – destroyed, to be truthful.”
Forced to leave home forever rather than face life in prison, they were cut off from family and social circles, with no support network.
They made new homes in Kerry, Waterford, Buncrana and Dublin but Derry was never far from their minds
Michael Toner: “Four weeks after I went on the run my sister died but I couldn’t attend her funeral. I also missed the last years of my father’s life, he died in 1982 and my brother in 1986. Even today their graves mean nothing to me. I haven’t been able to cry. I don’t know how to do it”.
Gerry Kelly only informed his two children after they watched the movie ‘In the Name of The Father’ about Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four.
“I began crying and when they asked why, I said ‘That was me; that happened to me.’ I then sat them down and told them what happened.”
Father of three Michael Toner, who now lives in Waterford, said: “I was a 17 year old child when this started I am now a 52 year old grand-father and still there is no end to it. It is ridiculous.”
Gerry Kelly: “I want someone to finally say what happened to us was wrong and that it shouldn’t have happened. We were four totally innocent teenagers and, yet, they decided to steal our lives from us. I want to know why. I live with this every day. Is it too much to ask for justice?”
“What the RUC took away from us is lost and gone forever.”
Valentine’s Day Memories:
Gerry Kelly: “Of course the date is significant. Personally we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, it has always been that way.”
Michael Toner: “I’ve not bought a Valentine’s Card since 1979. It is a day when you like to stay in bed all day and not get up. Several years ago, I was in Derry on Valentine’s when suddenly I jumped in the car and drove home to Waterford. I didn’t think I could stay in the city on Valentine’s Day.”
The Pat Finucane centre
After the intervention of solicitor Patricia Coyle and the PFC, the charges were dropped by the PPS in 2000 due to ‘the files no longer being available.’
Police interviewed the Derry 4 about charges relating to their skipping bail.
Gerry Kelly:“That made me very, very angry. This was the first time I was able to speak up for myself. I was no longer a little teenager being bullied or beaten by police.”
Michael Toner: “At the end of the day they are the ones who did wrong. They took four kids in, turned their lives upside down and then tried to walk away from it. Years later we’re still looking for answers. I live with this on my mind every day of the week. I need an end to it but I’ll never get over it. We need the public vindication.”
Gerry: “I don’t believe prosecutions will happen, I don’t care to see that happen. I think the report will bring it all to an end. We’ll be able to move on but we’ll never be able to replace what they took from us.”
and Philip Noel Thomson,
retired RUC officers appeared at (london)Derry Magistrates Court charged in connection with an alleged miscarriage of justice involving four Derry men 35 years ago.
They are alleged to have falsified evidence by recording written statements that were not the accounts given by suspects.
They are accused of perverting the course of justice in police investigations 35 years ago
Update December 2016:
Two men, aged 62 and 67, , believed to be former Police Ombudsman investigators, were arrested in England on Tuesday and brought to Northern Ireland for questioning by PSNI detectives.over the case of four teenagers falsely accused of murdering a British soldier
They were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office as part of a police investigation into allegations of criminal activity in the Police Ombudsman’s Office.