Bob Spour is a former soldier, martial arts expert and high-profile bullshitter. First exposed on ARRSE by one of our Admin team who used to be on arrse waltercommando search and walt finder team before cross decking to the WMHCHQ Over the years Spour had enjoyed a life of dashing dare and praise from all […]Bob Spour Bloater SAS
Panorama, SAS Death Squads Exposed: A British War Crime?: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0019707 via @bbciplayer
NO UK TROOPS ARE ABOVE THE LAW, CLAIMS THE BRITISH PRIME MINISTER – WHEN THE BRITISH ARMY INCLUDING THE SAS MURDERED WITH IMPUNITY IN THE NORTH OF IRELAND
MoD documents publicly name British soldier for first time
Previously unseen British army intelligence documents have linked undercover British SAS soldier Robert Nairac to the Miami Showband Massacre.
Three members of the band, including lead singer Fran O’Toole, were murdered when loyalist killers stopped their minibus at a bogus UDR checkpoint near Banbridge in Co Down in July 1975. The attack was carried out by members of the Glenanne Gang, which included RUC, UDR and UVF personal. Two loyalists also died when the bomb they were planting exploded prematurely. British army documents have now linked SAS-trained officer Nairac to the atrocity.
While he has previously been connected to loyalist murders this is believed to be the first time MoD documents naming him have been made public. Captain Robert Nairac was abducted and murdered by the PIRA in 1977 and his body has never been found. He is one of three people belonging to the group known as The Disappeared whose remains have yet to be located. The Ministry of Defence papers were recently disclosed to solicitor Michael Flanagan who represents Mr O’Toole’s widow Valerie Anderson. She is taking legal action against the MoD and the RUC/PSNI chief constable.
It is understood the redacted documents contain suggestions that Captain Nairac obtained equipment and uniforms for the killers. The file also claims that the British SAS soldier was responsible for the planning and execution of the attack. Survivors, including justice campaigner Stephen Travers, have previously insisted a member of the killer gang spoke with an English accent. In his 2015 book about the life of Captain Nairac, Alistair Kerr claimed the British soldier went on leave to Scotland the same day as the Miami Showband massacre.
Mr Travers last night said that when he learned of the document it was a “huge disappointment to me that I was right”. “It was the British army involved in the planning and execution,” he said. It is believed many of the documents provided to Mr Flanagan have been redacted and that public interest immunity certificates have also been issued. A hearing linked to the case is due to be heard in Belfast this morning. Mr Flanagan last night said collusion was a feature.
“This is a case where collusion is self-evident and in those circumstances it is of concern that the defendants are seeking to rely so heavily on public immunity,” he said. “We feel the state should be as open as possible in a case of this nature and will be asking the court to look at this issue.”
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Connla Young for the original story
Follow these links to find out more: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami_Showband_killings
THE IRSP has claimed that two members were killed as part of a wider campaign against the party which was backed by the British government.
The party spoke out after it emerged that Tory MP and Advocate General for Northern Ireland, Jeremy Wright QC is due to rule on whether there should be a new inquest into the death of INLA member Noel Little (45).
He was shot dead with fellow INLA man Ronnie Bunting (32) at a house in Downfine Gardens in the Andersonstown area of west Belfast in October 1980.
The double murder has been veiled in mystery amid claims that members of the SAS may have been involved, although the UDA later claimed responsibility.
The two men, who were also key members of the IRSP, were shot dead less than a year after Tory MP Airy Neave was killed when an INLA booby-trap bomb exploded under his car at the House of Commons in London.
After Mr Neave’s death several high profile figures linked to the IRSP and National H-Block Committee were shot dead or injured.
A senior figure in the Conservative Party, Mr Neave was a close ally of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Mr Wright will now make the inquest decision after a certificate transferring the case from the north’s attorney general John Larkin QC was issued by secretary of state Karen Bradley.
Earlier this week a Northern Ireland Office spokeswoman said: “The secretary of state is satisfied there is material held by the UK government relevant to the decision whether to open a fresh inquest, which is national security sensitive.”
The spokesman added that: “The advocate general is an independent law officer in the same way as the attorney general for Northern Ireland: he will make a decision independent of government.”
IRSP spokesman member Willie Gallagher said he believes the decision to target the party could have come directly from Margaret Thatcher.
“The overall combination of events and circumstances in that period led the IRSP to the conclusion that British soldiers acting under direct political orders, and assisted by willing stooges within the UDA and the RUC, conducted what was a campaign of murder against our party,” he said.
With many thanks to: The Irish News for the origional story.
A BANNER erectied by the SAS in Layneham which was later posted on social media was removed by the MOD (Ministry of Defence).
The GLOATING poster described as “inappropriate” last night by a Ministry of Defence spokesperson who also claimed no-one had reported having seen it. A picture of the poster which reads “SAS _8, IRA – 0’accopanied by the famous ‘Who Dares Wins’ logo of the SAS and an image of modern-day British soldiers in a warzone – with one appearing to jump for joy – appeared on social media.
MOD CONDEMNS POSTER GLORIFYING LOUGHGALL AMBUSH WHEN SAS SHOT DEAD 8 IRA MEN
The image’s appearance coincided with the 30th Anniversary of the Loughgall Martyrs ambush in which eight IRA men and an innocent civilian were murdered by the SAS. Even though the current terror threat in Britain remains at ‘severe’ meaning an attack is highly likely,
And despite high security around MoD premises, the sign went unnoticed as it was placed and removed right under the noses of security at the base. On Saturday night, however, the MoD (Ministry of Defence) said it wanted nothing to do with the glorifying of the ambush, labelling the poster “inappropriate”.
MoD Lyneham, formerly an RAF base, now serves as a Defence Technical base. Earlier this month an SAS flag appeared in Loughgall village,
Where the mass murder occurred (ambush took place), attracting much criticism. The Sunday World also obtained another photo which appears to show an SAS flag and a similar ‘scoreboard’ poster erected in the Co. Tyrone village of Moygashel.
The Loughgall Ambush was the IRA’s biggest single loss of life in one incident and it dealt a hammer-blow to the group’s highly active East Tyrone Brigade. On May 8th,1987, the SAS opened fire on the IRA active service unit as they made their getaway after driving a digger with a bomb in the bucket through the fence of Loughgall RUC station. The bomb exploded, with the station sustaining major damage.
However, as the RUC were tipped off (had received strong information) prior to the attack and shared it with the SAD, the station had already been evacuated. Apart from one RUC officer and the SAS laying in wait for the victims. A number of whom were badly injured at the time. As the IRA unit made their escape, 36 SAS operatives open fire murdering the IRA unit from concealed positions, killing all eight of the IRA unit and an innocent civilian in cold blood the civilian who had inadvertently driven into the ‘Kill Zone’.
The eight IRA men murdered were Jim Lynch, Gerard O’Callaghan, Eugene Kelly, Padraig McKearney, Seamus Donnelly, Declan Arthurs, Patrick Kelly and Tony Gormley. Civilian Anthony Hughes was murdered when he was caught in the cross fire. He was in a car with his brother, Oliver, who was baby wounded, as they made there way to work. Both men were wearing blue overalls similar to the ones the men in the IRA unit were wearing.
The 30th Anniversary of the Loughgall Martyrs was remembered earlier this month at a commemoration event in Cappagh, Co. Tyrone, which was addressed by Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill. Last week Sinn Féin condemned the flying of the SAS flag in Loughgall, branding it an act of “glorification”.
Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady said: “This shameful act of glorification will only serve to add further distress to the families of the nine men as we approach the 30th Anniversary.” In a statement, an MOD spokesperson said: “We are aware of an image that shows an inappropriate poster outside MoD Lyneham and condemn its content. The poster was found, and no personnel reported seeing it.”
With many thanks to: Jamie McDowell, The Sunday World for the original story.
The IRA man who escaped the SAS ‘kill zone’ at Loughgall tells for the first time what really happened when one of the Provisional IRA’s most dedicated units was ambushed by the British army’s killing specialists.
Reports: Connla Young.
A MEMBER of an IRA unit who survived a deadly SAS ambush at Loughgall which claimed the lives of eight Irish Republicans has broken his silence for the first time on the 30th Anniversary.
The Irish Republican, who does not want to be named, was one of three IRA members who escaped the SAS ambush in the sleepy Co Armagh village that night. The IRA man, who we have called Scout One, describes in remarkable detail how he and another member of the IRA team came face to face with the SAS but lived to tell the tale. A third IRA man, Liam Ryan, also escaped the lethal ambush. In an unprecedented interview the former IRA man provides the inside story on the republican movement’s single largest loss of life during the Trouble’s. Scout One also reveals that members of the IRA unit debated whether to go ahead with the attack at the roadside but at the last minute decided to proceed with the plan. While plenty has been written about the Loughgall ambush in the intervening three decades, little detail of what actually happened in the village has never been made public.
Eight IRA men and civilian Anthony Hughes, who unknownly drove into the area, were shot dead in the ambush which took place 30 years ago today. There have been suggestions that informers provided information to the security forces about the IRA’s plans. However, last year a member of a British Army intelligence unit claimed in a book that they found out about the planned Loughgall attack after spotting a known IRA man scouting diggers to steal in the area. Some believe that a combination of many threads of information allowed the security forces to conclude that Loughgall barracks was a target and to be ready and waiting to take out the IRA team. On the night of the ambush the IRA had planned to storm the police station with guns and a bomb placed in the bucket of a digger driven by Declan Arthurs, who was from Galbally, near Dungannon. The unit had hoped to reach the station as three RUC officers were expected to clock off duty. Sources say the IRA had been watching the police station in the run up to the attack and had established the officers left the station at the same time each night. The plan was to kill the RUC men and demolish the station immediately on entering the village.
Scout One reveals how he drove with other members of the IRA team into the village from the Portadown direction, passing the police station to a point at the opposite end of the village. After the attack was carried out the IRA team was supposed to make its way to him and another IRA man at the pick-up point where they were to be driven from the area to a safe house. “We were to sit there until the boys came back around again, until the bomb went off and they had shot it [the station] up,” he said. “The point of the operation was to get in before they left, to take them [the RUC men] out.” He explained that Arthurs unexpectedly appeared at the pick-up point in the digger minutes after the two getaway vehicles. The other IRA men arrived quickly behind him in the Toyota Hiace.
It later emerged that Arthurs had spotted the police car which was supposed to be in the RUC station while he drove the bomb into the village and “decided not to go ahead” with the attack. Scout One says that after having a discussion about what to do a second member of the IRA team, who also survived and is referred to as Scout Two, drove Aurthers back into the village in another car. “They were away three or four minutes and there was still a discussion about what to do,” he said. Scout One said he was then told by Paddy Kelly, who was the most senior IRA member in east Tyrone, to drive into Loughgall and bring the other two IRA men back after a collective decision was taken to go ahead with the planned attack. The survivor says that when he located Declan Arthurs and the other scout they were sitting on the roadside monitoring the police station, which at this time [unknown to them] was manned by six SAS men and three officers, including two members of the specialist Headquarters Mobile Support Unit (HMSU) and a local officer in case a member of the public arrived at the barracks door. He said that although Aurthers had a bad feeling about the operation he didn’t question the request to carry out the attack.
It is understood the 21-year-old was concerned by the lack off activity by members of the public in Loughgall on what was a sunny May evening. “He said at the start ‘there is no point in doing the operation, the target is away’,” Scout One said. In total 24 SAS men had been strategically deployed at different points around the station and had set up a ‘kill zone’. Republicans say this also involved establishing a three point triangular formation designed to eliminate everybody in the ‘kill zone’ while reducing the risk of friendly fire. The SAS men were armed with an array of automatic weapons including two general purpose machine guns [GPMGs] located within sight of the police station. Scout One says that once the decision was taken to go ahead with the attack, little time was lost. “We came back to the point where the rest of the boys were and Paddy Kelly said we are going to go in and blow the barracks up and fire a few rounds,” he said. “Declan went into the digger and the boys followed him.” After sweeping past the station one more time, the IRA team turned both the digger bomb and van before returning to the front of the police station. Around this time it is believed Aurthers used a lighter to ignite a fuse leading to the bomb and aimed it at the heavy security doors of the station. It is believed members of the IRA team travelling in the Hiace van leapt from the vehicle and sprayed the station with gunfire. The SAS also opened fire from various points, including from within the station itself. After coming under heavy fire, it is believed Arthurs collided with a blast wall at the entrance of the barracks before jumping from the digger. Seconds later the bomb exploded causing extensive damage to the station and injuring some of those inside. An unarmed Arthurs, who was wearing a white jacket, sweatshirt and blue jeans, was shot multiple times a short distance away as he tried to escape along a nearby laneway which led to a locked gate. His body was later found with a lighter in his hand.
While the attack was taking place Scout One and Scout Two waited a short distance away at the pick-up point. “We were at the pick-up point and then there was a Rip as the bomb went up,” he said. “There was a rattle of stuff [gunshots] and then there was a rattle of heavy stuff [British army GPMGs] “I turned to [Scout Two] and said: “They are giving her some rattle here.’ “It went on and on and on, for what seemed like three or four minutes, it was fierce firing. “Then out in the distance I saw a helicopter and I turned to [Scout Two] and said “there’s something badly wrong here’. “At this stage we were waiting for them [the IRA team] to come down and get away.” The IRA man says that when members of his unit failed to appear he and his colleague became concerned. He said as they made their way into Loughgall in separate vehicles to see what was happening they came face to face with members of the SAS ambush team close to the village. “Another couple of cars with civilians came behind us and two SAS men jumped out and they turned their weapons on us,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. ” The IRA man said several other SAS members leapt from behind a wall and ran towards the bomb team’s Hiace van, which was a short distance away.
Scout One said that during the incident an SAS soldier stood two feet in front of his vehicle and pointed an M16 Armalite at him. “I know for a fact to this day, when you look in someone’s eyes, they knew we were involved,” he said. “The other boy had a gun on [Scout Two]. “They knew we were involved. They had observed us for 20 minutes before it.” He said that as he sat “frozen” in the cross hairs of the SAS man’s sights he could see the blue Hiace van and the bodies of his IRA colleagues lying around it. He said that while the SAD men he encountered were calm, others were “dancing” around the van. “At that stage there was an odd isolated shot,” he said. “I knew they were wiped out at the time. “I could see the carnage down at the van. “At the same time it was a shock to know everybody was away. “The boys [SAS men] who were with us were in control, but the boys around the van were in a frenzy.” The IRA man believes there was ample opportunity to arrest the bomb team. “I have no doubt it was a ‘Shoot to kill’ operation, it was a turkey shoot,” he said. “They could have rammed the van, the boys were sitting in a vulnerable situation, crammed in the van.” “There was a 10-minute window from the lads going through the village the first time to when they went back in again,” he said. “They let the bomb through and they waited 10 minutes because they wanted them in the kill zone.” “There was ample time for arrests to be made.”
Scout Two said that within minutes a large number of ‘regular’ British soldiers jumped from the helicopter he had spotted earlier and made their way to the road where he was sitting in his vehicle. “He said the SAS men then “disapeared”. “We sat there frozen,” he said. “There was an auld pair behind us and at this stage there was five or six Brits around. “I swore I was going to be dragged out.”
Scout One said that suddenly he, the elderly couple and the other IRA men were ordered to turn their vehicles and leave the area by a British soldier. “I turned the vehicle thinking we were going to get emptied [shot],” he said. Having just survived the encounter with the SAS, both IRA men made their escape in different directions. Scout One revealed that despite his near shave he has no regrets about driving into the ‘kill zone’ in a bid to rescue members of the bomb team after they were ambushed. “If someone had made a go for it, I could have lifted him,” he said. “And I am glad I did that. “I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I had not.” Seconds after escaping the area Scout Two met Liam Ryan on a country Road a short distance away and told him what had happened. Ryan had been in radio contact with the bomb team seconds before the attack. He was later killed in an attack claimed by loyalists more than two years later at his bar in Moortown, Co Tyrone.
[The SAS] let the bomb through and they waited 10 minutes because they wanted them in the kill zone. There was ample time for arrests to be made – ‘Scout One’.
At the time of his death he was one of the most senior IRA men in Co Tyrone and sat on the organisation’s ‘Brigade Staff’. Scout One says he doesn’t know why he and the other IRA men were allowed to leave the area but believes the elderly couple who were also being held at the roadblock may have been viewed by the soldiers as witnesses. “I would say a big part of it was the auld pair,” he said. “They just had their weapons trained on us, they never even looked at the other boys running down the road.” Scout One’s feelings of relief at escaping death were quickly dampened when seconds later he drove straight into an RUC checkpoint a short distance away. “Again I was stopped and taken out of my vehicle,” he said. “I had a load of cloths belonging to the lads in the back. “I said to myself ‘this is it this time’. “They asked me what I was doing in that part of the country and I told them I was working. “I gave them a false name. “I had false plates and they had to be coming up wrong [in the police computer system].” “I thought I had rode our luck the first time. “I was waiting to be cuffed.”
Despite his worst fears he said that after about five minutes an RUC officer told him he was free to leave. “I got into the vehicle again very slowly. I didn’t know what was happening, was I being set up for something?” The IRA man, who had by this time slipped the net for a second time, then made his way to a safe house. He confirms that Scout Two and Liam Ryan both made their way to Monaghan, while several other members of the IRA unit who were in the wider area, but not the village, also managed to escape. He said that after the Loughgall ambush the IRA in Co Tyrone recognised and went on to kill eight British soldiers using a roadside bomb between Ballygawley and Omagh in August 1988. While he said he had no involvement in that operation it brought a Sence of settling a score. “It was eight for eight,” he said. The Loughgall ambush represented the largest single loss of life suffered by the IRA during the Troubles. Among those killed (murdered) was Paddy Kelly, the IRA ‘ Officer Commanding’ (OC) in East Tyrone at the time. Other senior leading republicans to die included Jim Lynch and Padraig McKearney, who were both seasoned veterans of the IRA’s campaign (and it was believed at the time taken out by British elements because they would not have supported Sinn Féin’s move to fully disarm). Scout One, who is no longer involved with the republican movement, said that despite the passing of 30 years, he still thinks about what happened at Loughgall. “I still think about it every day,” he said. “You always felt something hanging over you. “There was nothing resolved, there was no conclusion.”
■ The eight IRA members killed were: Jim Lynch (32), Padraig McKearney (32), Gerard O’Callaghan (29), Tony Gormley (25), Eugene Kelly (25), Patrick Kelly (32), Seamus Donnelly (19) and Declan Arthurs (21). And civilian Anthony Hughes (36) was also murdered.
IRA used boat to transport bomb across Lough Neagh.
THE bomb used by the IRA at Loughgall was transported across Lough Neagh to its target by boat, it can be revealed. The deadly device, estimated to be around 400lb, was taken from Ardboe in Co Tyrone to an isolated part of the Co Armagh shoreline near Maghery. The device was later loaded into the bucket of the digger used in the attack. Although the IRA had advanced their bomb making techniques by the mid-1980s, the digger bomb used at Loughgall was denoted by simple fuse wire lit using a lighter. Republican sources say the decision to transport the bomb by boat was made to avoid the possibility of running into British army or RUC checkpoints along the maze of roads that chiss-cross the border between Tyrone and Armagh.
By road, the straight route from Ardboe to the Loughgall area would have taken the bomb team through mainly nationalist districts along the lough shore until they crossed the M1 motorway and into majority unionist districts of north Armagh. Sources say that after the bomb was loaded and final preparations were made, both the digger and bomb team made their way towards Loughgall. It is understood the digger, which was driven by Declan Arthurs, left the rendezvous point before the other IRA members.
A hijacked blue Toyota Hiace van carrying the other bomb team members moved along the same road a short time later, catching up with the digger, which had its front bucket raised in the air, as it neared Loughgall and the RUC station. The IRA team had planned to kill three police officers as they came off duty before blowing up the RUC station. The digger used in the attack had been hijacked earlier from a family farm close to the main Armagh to Mot Road. The blue Hiace van the bomb team travelled in was hijacked at Clonoe, near Coalisland, earlier in the day after two armed and masked men walked into a business premises and demanded the keys from a staff member. It is understood they ordered the man not to report the matter for several hours. The hijacking was later reported to police. However, it is believed that some members of the SAS ambush squad were aware of the stolen van before the time it was officially reported.
With many thanks to: Connla Young, The Irish News for the original story.
Born in Mauritius rumoured to be a member of the SAS later a British Army death squad commander in Ireland during the 1970s.
He also went undercover spying in on the IRA activities by frequenting pubs and places they would meet. He gained the nickname Danny Boy. He was also behind the murder of a young IRA volunteer John Francis Green. Eventually the IRA caught up with him and executed him. By shoting him once in the head Robert was executed sometime around 1977 and he remains one of the Disappeared.
With many thanks to: Irish History discussion and debate group. For the origional story.
THE SECOND republican to join the H-Block hunger-strike for political status – a fortnight after Bobby Sands.
Was twenty-five-year-old Francis Hughes, from Bellaghy in South Derry: a determined, committed and totally fearless IRA Volunteer who organised a spectacularly successful series of military operations before his capture, and was once described by the RUC as their ‘most wanted man’ in the North.
Eluding for several years the relentless efforts of the British army, UDR and RUC to track him down, Francis operated boldly throughout parts of Tyrone and north and south Antrim, but particularly in his native South Derry, with a combination of brilliant organisation and extreme daring – until his capture after a shoot-out with the SAS – which earned him widespread popular renown, and won general support for the republican cause, as well as giving him an undisputed reputation as a natural-born soldier and leader.
Francis Hughes was born on February 28th, 1956, the youngest son amongst ten children, into a staunchly republican family which has been solidly rooted, for most of this century, in the townland of Tamlaghtduff, or Scribe Road, as it is otherwise called.
His parents who married in 1939, are Patrick Joseph Hughes, aged 72, a retired small cattle farmer born in the neighbouring town land of Ballymacpeake, and Margaret, aged 68, whose maiden name is McElwee, and who was born in Tamlaghtduff.
A quarter-of-a-mile away from the Hughes’ bungalow, on the other side of the Scribe Road is the home of Thomas and Benedict McElwee – first cousins of Francis. Benedict is currently serving a sentence in the H-Blocks. Thomas – the eldest – embarked on hunger strike on June 8th, and died sixty-two days later on August 8th.
In Tamlaghtduff, as throughout the rest of Bellaghy, sympathy as well as active support for the republican cause runs at a very high level, a fact testified to by the approximately twenty prisoners-of-war from around Bellaghy alone.
Francis was an extremely popular person, both to his family and to his republican colleagues and supporters.
His father recalls that as a boy he was always whistling, joking and singing: a trait which he carried over into his arduous and perilous days as a republican, when he was able to transmit his enthusiasm and optimism both to Volunteers under his command and to Sympathisers who offered them – at great personal risk, food and shelter
It was qualities like these, of uncomplaining tirelessness, of consideration for the morale of those around him, and his ruling wish to lead by example, that have made Francis Hughes one of the most outstanding Irish revolutionary soldiers this war has produced and a man who was enormously respected in his native countryside.
As a boy, Francis went first to St. Mary’s primary school in Bellaghy, and from there to Clady intermediate school three miles away.
He enjoyed school and was a fairly good student whose favourite subjects were history and woodwork. He was not particularly interested in sport, but was very much a lively, outdoor person, who enjoyed messing around on bikes, and later on, in cars.
He enjoyed dancing and regularly went to ceilidh as a young man, even while ‘on the run’, although after ‘wanted’ posters of him appeared his opportunities became less frequent.
His parents recall that Francis was always extremely helpful around the house, and that he was a “good tractor man”.
Leaving school at sixteen, Francis got a job with his sister Vera’s husband, as an apprentice painter and decorator, completing his apprenticeship shortly before ‘going on the run’.
In later days, Francis would often do a spot of decorating for the people whose house he was staying in
On one occasion, shortly after the ‘wanted’ posters of him had been posted up all over South Derry, Francis was painting window frames at the front of the house he was staying in when two jeep-loads of British soldiers drove past. While the other occupants of the house froze in apprehension, Francis waved and smiled at the curious Brits as they passed by, and continued painting.
It was such utter fearlessness, and the ability to brazen his way through, that saved him time and time again during his relatively long career as an active service Volunteer.
On one such occasion, when stopped along with two other Volunteers as they crossed a field, Francis told a Brit patrol that they didn’t feel safe walking the roads, as the IRA were so active in the area. The Brits allowed the trio to walk on, but after a few yards Francis ran back to the enemy patrol to scrounge a cigarette and a match from one of the British soldiers.
A turning point for Francis, in terms of his personal involvement in the struggle, occurred at the age of seventeen, when he and a friend were stopped by British soldiers at Ardboe, in County Tyrone, as they returned from a dance one night.
The pair were taken out of their car and so badly kicked that Francis was bed-ridden for several days. Rejecting advice to make a complaint to the RUC, Francis said it would be a waste of time, but pledged instead to get even with those who had done it, “or with their friends.”
Notwithstanding such a bitter personal experience of British thuggery, and the mental and physical scars it left, Francis’ subsequent involvement in the Irish Republican Army was not based on a motive of revenge but on a clear and abiding belief in his country’s right to national freedom.
During the early part of ‘the troubles’, the ‘Officials’ were relatively strong in the South Derry area and Francis’ first involvement was with them.
However, disillusioned, as were many others, with the ‘Sticks’ unilateral ceasefire in 1972, he left to set up and command an ‘independent’ military unit in the Bellaghy area. About the end of 1973 the entire unit – including Francis – was formally recruited into the IRA.
Francis’ involvement brought him increasingly to the attention of the British army and RUC and he was regularly held for a few hours in Magherafelt barracks and stopped on the road by British patrols; and on one occasion he was held for two days at Ballykelly camp.
As the 1975 IRA/British army truce came to an end Francis, fearing his imminent arrest, went ‘on the run’. From that time on, he led a life perpetually on the move, often moving on foot up to twenty miles during one night then sleeping during the day – either in fields and ditches or in safe houses; a soldierly sight in his black beret and combat uniform, and openly carrying his rifle, a handgun and several grenades as well as food rations.
The enemy reacted with up to fifty early morning raids on Francis’ home, and raids on the homes of those suspected of harbouring him. Often, houses would be staked out for days on end in the hope of capturing Francis. Often, it was only his sheer nerve and courage which saved him. One night, Francis was followed to a ‘safe house’ and looked out to see the Brits surrounding the place and closing in. Without hesitating, the uniformed Francis stepped outside the door, clutching his rifle, and in the darkness crept gradually through their lines, occasionally mumbling a few short words to British soldiers he passed, who, on seeing the shadowy uniformed figure, mistook him for one of themselves.
On numerous occasions, Francis and his comrades were stopped at checkpoints along the country roads while moving weapons from one locality to another but always calmly talked their way through. Once, a UDR soldier actually recognised Francis and his fellow Volunteers in a car but, fully aware that Francis would not be taken without a shoot-out, he waved their car on.
The years before Francis’ capture were extremely active ones in the South Derry and surrounding areas with the commercial centres of towns and villages like Bellaghy, Maghera, Toome, Magherafelt and Castledawson being blitzed by car bombs on several occasions, and numerous shooting attacks being carried out as well.
Among the Volunteers under his command Francis had a reputation of being a strict disciplinarian and perfectionist who could not tolerate people taking their republican duties less seriously, and selflessly, than was necessary. He also, however, inspired fellow Volunteers by his example and by always being in the thick of things, and he thrived on pressure.
During one night-time operation, a weapon was missing and Francis gave away his own weapon to another Volunteer, taking only a torch himself which he used to its maximum effect by shining it at an oncoming enemy vehicle, which had its headlights off, to enable the other Volunteers to direct their fire.
Francis’ good-humoured audacity also showed itself in his republican activity. At the height of his ‘notoriety’ he would set up road-blocks, hoping to lure the Brits into an ambush (which by hard experience they learned to avoid), or he would ring up the Brits and give them his whereabouts!
Such joking, however, did not extend only to the enemy. One day, lying out in the fields, he spied one of his uncles cycling down a country road. Taking careful aim with his rifle he shot away the bike’s rear wheel. His uncle ran alarmed, into a nearby house shouting that loyalists had just tried to assassinate him!
The determination of the British army and RUC to capture Francis Hughes came to a head in April 1977. In that month, on Good Friday, a car containing three IRA Volunteers was overtaken and flagged down on the Moneymore Road at Dunronan, in County Derry, by a carload of RUC men.
The Volunteers attempted to make a U-turn but their car got stuck in a ditch as the armed RUC men approached. Jumping from the car, the Volunteers opened fire, killing two RUC men and injuring another before driving off. A hundred yards further up the road a second gun battle ensued but the Volunteers escaped safely.
Subsequently, the RUC issued a ‘wanted’ poster of Francis Hughes and two fellow republicans, Dominic McGlinchey and Ian Milne, in which Francis was named as the ‘most wanted man’ in the North.
When his eventual capture came, it was just as he had always said it would be: “I’ll get a few of them before they get me.”
At 8.00 p.m. on March 16th, 1978, two SAS soldiers took up a stake-out position opposite a farm, on the south side of the Ronaghan road, about two miles west of Maghera, in the townland of Ballyknock.
At 9.15 p.m. they saw two men in military uniform and carrying rifles, walking in single file along the hedgeline of the field towards them. Using their ‘night sights’ in the darkness, the SAS men observed the military behaviour of the two on-comers and having challenged them, heard the men mumble a few words to each other in Irish accents and assumed that the pair were UDR soldiers.
One of the pair, in fact, was Francis Hughes, the other a fellow Volunteer, and with only a second’s hesitation both Volunteers cocked their rifles and opened fire. One SAS man fell fatally wounded but the other – though shot in the stomach – managed to fire a long burst from his sterling sub-machine gun at the retreating figures, and to make radio contact with his base.
Within three minutes, nearby Brit patrols were on the scene and the area was entirely sealed off. The following morning hundreds of Brits took part in a massive search operation.
Fifteen hours after the shooting, at around 12.15 p.m. the next day, they found Francis Hughes sitting in the middle of a gorse bush in a field three hundred yards away, bleeding profusely from a bullet wound which had shattered his left thigh. As he was taken away on a stretcher he yelled defiantly, through his considerable pain: “Up the Provies”.
His comrade, though also wounded, slightly, managed to evade the dragnet and to escape.
How he survived the night of the shooting, possibly the coldest night of that year, bears eloquent testimony to Francis’ grim determination to evade capture. After being shot, he dragged himself – unable to walk – across the Ronaghan road and across two fields without a sound, before burying himself in a thick clump of gorse bushes.
At one point, en-route, Francis fell down a sharp drop between fields, and his left leg – the muscle and bone completely disintegrated – came up over his shoulder; but Francis worked it carefully down before continuing to crawl on his way. In his hiding place, he lay through the night, motionless and soundless, till his capture.
When he was found, unable to move through the cold, pain and stiffness, Francis, knowing that both Brits and RUC were on instructions to shoot him on sight, gave his name as Eamonn Laverty and his address as Letterkenny, County Donegal.
Francis was taken to Magherafelt hospital and from there to Musgrave Park military hospital in Belfast, and it was only then that his true identity was revealed. He spent ten months in Musgrave Park where his leg was operated on, reducing his thigh bone by an inch-and-a-half and leaving him dependent on a crutch to walk.
On Wednesday, January 24th, 1979, Francis was taken from Musgrave Park hospital to Castlereagh interrogation centre where he spent six days before being charged on January 29th. For more than four days Francis refused food and drink, fearing that it might have been drugged to make him talk.
His behaviour in Castlereagh was typical of the fiercely determined and courageous republican Volunteer that he was. His frustrated interrogators later described him as “totally uncooperative”.
Nevertheless, at his trial in Belfast in February 1980, after a year on remand in Crumlin Road jail, Francis was found ‘guilty’ on all charges.
He received a life sentence for killing the SAS soldier, and fourteen years for attempting to kill the other SAS man. He also received fifty-five years on three other charges.
In the H-Blocks, Francis immediately went on the protest for political status and, despite the severe disability of his wounded leg, displayed the same courage and determination that had been his hallmark before his capture.
And, just as always wanting to be in the thick of things and wanting to shoulder responsibility for other political prisoners as he had earlier looked after the morale of fellow Volunteers, Francis was one of those to volunteer for the hunger strike which began on October 27th, 1980. He was not one of the first seven hunger strikers selected but was among the thirty men who joined the hunger strike in its closing stages as Sean McKenna’s condition became critical.
That utter selflessness and courage came to its tragic conclusion on Tuesday, May 12th, when Francis died at 5.43 p.m. after fifty-nine days on Hunger Strike.
With many thanks to: Sean Larkin – South Derry.
It has been brought to the attention of Belfast 32csm that the much needed mental health facilities at the Everton Centre in Ardoyne are to be closed due to a lack of funding…….
Facilities like this are s necessity in the Ardoyne area which has a substantially high number of people with mental health issues, as do many working class communities. We totally condemn the closure of such services due to the lack of funding whilst at the same time British security forces including MI5, Special Branch,
SAS and the unreformed RUC are receiving millions of pounds of tax payers money to harass and oppress this small republican community. With the closure of Everton Centre many patients will have to travel to different unfamiliar facilities, in many cases these facilities are based in the heart of loyalist areas which would inevitably cause even more distress and anxiety.
Over the next few weeks we would ask everyone to highlight this issue and hopfully bring an end to the closure of this much needed service and show that we all support mental health treatment right across the board.
With many thanks to: Conchobhar Óbreaslain – 32 County Sovereignty Movement :