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 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 17:30 GMT
Atrocity relatives seek justice
Scene after 1972 Claudy bombing
Nine people were killed in the no-warning bomb
The families of the victims of the Claudy bombing have spoken of their distress after being told about the implication of a Catholic priest in the atrocity.

Detectives in Northern Ireland said the government and Church shielded the cleric involved in the 1972 bombing which killed nine.

The claim came as relatives of those killed in Claudy, County Londonderry, met police on Friday to discuss the outcome of a new investigation into the attack.

A parish priest turned IRA bomber?

He denied it utterly, unequivocally, vehemently - he did say that he has republican sympathies, very strong republican sympathies

The Catholic Church said it was horrified by the allegations.

Nine people, including three children, were killed when three IRA car bombs exploded in the village in July 1972.

Merle Eakin, who lost her daughter Kathryn in the attack, said: "We are just hopeful that they will bring justice and the people who are still alive will be brought to justice - that is what we really want."

Survivor Mary Hamilton said: "There seems to have been a cover-up and now they are starting to inquire into it. Why did they not do it years ago when the people were still alive?"

Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kinkaid said a search of 1972 papers clearly showed that a parish priest in south Derry was a Provisional IRA member actively involved in terrorism.

He said the search also showed the priest provided an alibi for a person suspected of playing a prominent role in the atrocity.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has not identified the priest, but he is believed to be Father James Chesney, who died in 1980.
Merle Eakin:
Merle Eakin: "It is a very emotional time"

He was never questioned in connection with the attack which the IRA denied carrying out.

It has been alleged that the then Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw and Cardinal William Conway, the Catholic Primate of all-Ireland, discussed the outrage and the activities of the priest.

The Catholic primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady, said any possible involvement of a priest, directly or indirectly, "brings distress, shame and grief to me and to all Catholic priests".


According to Mr Kinkaid, inquiries revealed that a member of the public, whom he did not name, briefed Cardinal Conway and a senior police officer on the priest's role soon after the bombing.

Cardinal Conway met Viscount Whitelaw
Whitelaw expressed disgust at priest's actions
Cardinal said priest behaved "improperly"
Cardinal suggested transfer of priest
Father Chesney moved to Malin Head parish
Mr Kinkaid's review team also discovered papers indicating that in late November 1972, the police briefed Northern Ireland Office officials on some of the priest's alleged activities.

Mr Kinkaid said a letter dated 6 December indicated that William Whitelaw gave the Cardinal a full account of his disgust at the priest's behaviour, and also indicated that the Cardinal knew that the priest was behaving improperly.

"The letter then states that the Cardinal mentioned the possibility of transferring the priest to Donegal."

Case reopened

Police reopened the case at the beginning of October after a letter emerged that alleged that Father Chesney was involved in the bombings.

It claimed the priest broke down and confessed his part in the bombing to another clergyman shortly after the car bomb attack.

Memorial to victims of Claudy bombing
A memorial to the bomb victims has been erected
The authenticity of a letter, purporting to have been written by a priest in which the allegations were made, has been challenged by the Catholic Church.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble immediately called for a full judicial inquiry, similar to the Bloody Sunday tribunal.

The youngest victim of the bombing was eight-year-old Kathryn Eakin who was cleaning the windows of the family grocery store when the bombs exploded.

The other people killed were, Joseph McCluskey 39, David Miller aged 60, James McClelland 65, William Temple 16, Elizabeth McElhinney 59, Rose McLaughlin aged 51, Patrick Connolly and Arthur Hone.

  The BBC's Denis Murray
"This is still a live investigation"
  Bomb victim's father, Billy Eakin
"If this is true it horrifies me"
The reinvestigation of an atrocity

Key stories


See also:

20 Dec 02 | N Ireland
01 Oct 02 | N Ireland
20 Aug 00 | N Ireland
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