Northern Ireland news

Mother of plastic bullet victim (15) appeals to see classified file

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

THE mother of a teenage boy killed by a plastic bullet 38 years ago has appealed to Secretary of State Karen Bradley to let her family view a file on his death which is to remain classified until 2059.

Paul Whitters (15) died on April 25 1981, 10 days after he was struck in the head by a plastic bullet fired by an RUC man in Derry.

The incident occurred at Great James Street during serious rioting which erupted during the 1981 hunger strikes.

In 2007, the police investigation into the teenager’s death was criticised in a Police Ombudsman report.

Last year, the family was made aware – through a search by human rights’ group, the Pat Finucane Centre – that a file on his death was stored at the National Archive at Kew with orders that it should not be opened until 2059.

It is understood the Northern Ireland Office ordered the file should remain closed for another 40 years on the grounds of national security.

In a letter to Ms Bradley coinciding with the 38th anniversary of the incident which led to her son’s death, the victim’s mother, Helen Whitters called for the file to be shown.

A file on Paul Whitters' death held at the National Archive at Kew is to remain classified until 2059

Mrs Whitters said: “It appears that the file was reviewed in 2018 and the decision was made to keep the file closed until January 1 2059. I find this deeply shocking. Why should a file on the death of my 15-year-old child, which happened almost 40 years ago, remain classified for another 40 years?

"What has the British government, the NIO, the RUC got to hide. What secrets must be protected about events that April evening in Great James Street.”

She said if the file remained closed until 2059, she will not be alive to view it nor will anyone who knew her son as “the lovely, handsome, caring, intelligent young man that he was”.

“None of his family, his friends, his classmates. Your government does not have the right to withhold this from my family. You do not have the right to withhold this from his two brothers and sister," she said.

Mrs Whitters said her family decided not to ask for the file to be made public as this would lead to major redactions. Instead she has asked that her family be allowed to view the document in its entirety.

“Paul would be 53 if he were still alive. He might well have been a proud and loving father and husband. Who knows what he would have achieved? I owe it to him to ensure that his file is not allowed to gather dust in a vault in London simply because it is seen as too embarrassing for the establishment,” she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA backed Mrs Whitters' call for access to the file.

"The Pat Finucane Centre has discovered that the British Government holds files relating to the death of this teenage boy but has sealed the contents until 2059, effectively sentencing his family to a life without the truth about what happened that day. That is unacceptable," he said.

He added: "What has the British Government to hide from a grieving family 38 years after the killing of their son?" 

"The Secretary of State should release the files to the family to afford them some measure of truth and closure."

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