Northern Ireland

Derry man Thomas Friel died from fall after being struck by rubber bullet inquest finds

Thomas Friel died after riot in Derry in 1973

Thomas Friel died after being hit by a plastic bullet in Derry
Thomas Friel died after being hit by a plastic bullet in Derry

A judge has ruled that a man died as a result of a fall after being struck by a rubber bullet during a riot in Derry more than 50 years ago.

Thomas Friel (21) died on May 22 1973, after being brought to Altnagelvin Hospital with head injuries four days earlier.

An inquest held in 1974 returned an open verdict.

A further inquest was ordered and in 2021 a coroner ruled that Mr Friel’s injuries were as a result of a stone striking him during rioting.

These findings were quashed by the High Court and yet another inquest was ordered.

On Friday, Judge Mark Reel, acting as coroner, found that Mr Friel died of injuries when he struck his head on the ground after he was hit by a rubber bullet.

He said the timings of events suggested that the account given by soldiers were inaccurate and added that information had been inserted into statements by those taking them.

The coroner said one soldier described the statement taking process by the Royal Military Police as “a relaxed process” and said they were “on their side”.

The coroner said the rubber bullet was so inaccurate that it was almost impossible to refer to an aimed shot.

The coroner said that in all likelihood Mr Friel was struck by a rubber bullet fired by Soldier B and then fell striking his head causing the injuries.

Mr Friel’s brother Liam Friel, said his family “welcome the result and we feel vindicated in our 50-year plus struggle”.

“It proves what we knew all along,” he said.

“Namely, that Thomas was struck by a rubber bullet that caused his death.”

Solicitor Ruairi Muldoon, of McDermott, McGurk and Partners, said he was happy the Friel family “finally got the result they deserve after three inquests and a judicial review”.

“It’s just a shame other families might not have the opportunity to achieve a result like this which, even 50 years on, shows it’s still possible.”