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Friday, 20 December, 2002, 13:23 GMT
NI police statement in full
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) claims there was a cover-up by the government and the Catholic Church to prevent the unmasking of a priest involved in a 1972 bombing.
The Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kinkaid, made the following statement:
I have just briefed the injured and the relatives of those killed at Claudy on 31 July 1972 on the initial findings of the review into the investigation.
Three bombs were planted in Claudy. They exploded killing nine people. Over 30 people were injured.
Claudy remains one of the worst unsolved atrocities of the troubles.
I commissioned the review in August 2002 following the 30th Anniversary of the bombing.
The review is being carried out by a senior detective attached to North Region of the PSNI. He reports directly to me.
The purpose of the review is to see if there are any new or existing lines of enquiry that the PSNI can take forward.
I later amended the terms of the reference for the review to include an assessment of a letter purporting to come from a "Father Liam".
This spoke of the involvement of a Catholic priest in the bomb attack. The text of the letter does raise a number of questions as to whether or not it was written by a person who knew the priest in question.
The forensic examination of the letter has not yet been completed.
In a search of 1972 papers, information has been found which clearly indicates that a parish priest in the South Derry area was a member of the Provisional IRA and was actively involved in the Claudy bomb.
We do not intend to publicly identify the priest or any other suspect in the Claudy incident. Such matters will remain confidential.
An examination of the 1972 and later material has given the review team some understanding of those suspected of involvement in the bomb attack, the part they played and why so many people died at Claudy.
We have also tried to discover why no one has been charged. Our investigations required us to approach both church authorities and the government to ask for sight of documents.
We are grateful for the assistance given to date.
Our inquiries have revealed that a member of the public briefed the then Cardinal and a senior police officer on the role of the priest not long after the date of the bombing.
We have also discovered papers indicating that in late November 1972 the police briefed Northern Ireland Office (NIO) officials on some of the priest's alleged activities.
In addition, papers were found relating to a discussion held on 5 December 1972 between the then Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw and Cardinal Conway.
On 6 December 1972, the day after the meeting, a briefing letter was sent from a senior NIO official to Police Headquarters indicating that the private matter discussed related to the activities of the priest.
The letter of 6 December 1972 indicates that the Secretary of State gave the Cardinal a full account of his disgust at the priest's behaviour and also indicates 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.
By January 1973, police reports show that the priest was not being seen in the south Derry area. Intelligence suggested he was working in Donegal .
Police can't find any record that the priest was ever arrested or interviewed about his alleged involvement in the Claudy bombing, or any other terrorist offence.
As the army had primacy in relation to security activities at that time, the PSNI has written to them, the NIO, and the Catholic Church requesting sight of any additional papers in relation to the Claudy bombing, the role of the priest, and subsequent events.
This is very much an interim report to the families and they will be briefed on further developments.
There has been some media speculation that the then Bishop of Derry was involved in 1972 in matters relating to the priest.
Police have not discovered any evidence of this.
It is clear that the relatives of those who died in the bomb attack on Claudy village and those who were injured have not obtained justice.
I regret this very much and in particular that opportunities to arrest and interview all of the suspects were not taken in 1972.
I have told the families that my officers are fully committed to doing everything possible to bring those responsible before the courts.
We would therefore appeal to anyone who has information that could assist the police to contact the detectives at Strand Road police station.
20 Dec 02 | N Ireland
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