Northern Ireland news

Disgust at discovery that plastic bullet death files are closed for up to 84 years

Paul Whitters (15) died ten days after being hit by a plastic bullet.
Seamus McKinney

The mother of a teenager killed by a plastic bullet 37 years ago this week has called for all files on her son’s death to be published.

Helen Whitters was speaking after it was revealed that a file about the death of her son, Paul (15) in 1981 has been closed at the National Archives at Kew until 2059.

The Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) has discovered that other files at Kew relating to plastic bullet deaths are to remain closed for 84 years until 2071.

Paul Whitters was struck on the back of his head by a plastic bullet fired by an RUC constable on April 15 1981. He survived for ten days, dying on April 25. In 2007, then Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan found that the use of the plastic bullet round was “wrong and unjustifiable.”

The former Ombudsman found that the police officer fired the plastic bullet gun at under the minimum permissible range; that no attempt was made to arrest the teenager and that the police account was inconsistent with that of seven eyewitnesses.

She criticised the police investigation for failing to interview civilian witnesses who said that when the fatal shot was fired earlier rioting had stopped. Almost a year to the day after the teenager's death, 11-year-old Stephen McConomy, also Derry, died after being hit by a plastic baton round.

Mrs Whitters said: “What right does the government have to withhold information until those who knew and loved Paul are long dead.

“This is about the death of my son at the hands of a RUC constable. This file must be opened and I am appealing to everyone with influence to raise this matter with the Secretary of State.”

PFC spokeswoman, Sara Duddy said: “For years families have campaigned for information relating to the use of plastic and rubber bullets, lethal weapons that killed 17 people during the conflict, mostly children. Many more suffered life-changing injuries. It is unacceptable that information is still being withheld."

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