Northern Ireland news

John Turnley remembered as 'brave' on fortieth anniversary of murder

John Turnly was shot dead in June 1980
Connla Young

A FORMER British soldier who embraced Irish nationalism and campaigned for republican prisoners has been described as “brave" on the 40th anniversary of his murder by a loyalist gang linked to the SAS.

John Turnley was shot dead by the UDA in the Co Antrim village of Carnlough 40 years ago.

A Protestant who came from a unionist background, Mr Turnley had been a member of the SDLP before helping to found the Irish Independence Party, which he later served as chairman.

He was elected to the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention in 1975 and was a representative for the Coast Road constituency at the old Larne council from 1977.

He was also involved in the National H-Block Committee, which campaigned for republican prisoners who at the time were engaged in a bitter 'no-wash' protest in demand of political status.

A former British army officer, Mr Turnley lived at Drumnascale House at Garron Point with his Japanese wife and two sons.

He was one of four members of the H-Block committee murdered in by loyalists in 1980.

The 44-year-old was gunned down as he was being dropped off by his family for a council meeting in Carnlough on June 4 1980.

Unable to reach his personal protection weapon, which was in the glove compartment of his car, he was struck nine times.

Three men were later convicted of his murder and that of Catholic man Rodney McCormick (22) who was shot dead in Larne in August 1980.

In 2016 it emerged that one of the three, William McClelland, had been a member of the UDR.

Brothers Robert and Eric McConnell were also convicted for their part in the murders.

During his 1982 trial Robert McConnell claimed he had been working for the SAS saying they supplied him with weapons, uniforms and listening devices.

Causeway Coast Sinn Féin councillor and Carnlough native Oliver McMullan said Mr Turnley was highly regarded in the area.

“I was young at the time and I remember John about,” he said.

“He did a lot of good work.

“John was well liked and still to this day is well liked.

“He spoke to people the right way and he was well mannered, people took to him well.”

Mr McMullan acknowledged Mr Turnley's courage.

“It was a brave step for someone from his background, to do what he done.”

He suspects collusion in the murder.

“It was tragic the way he lost his life,” he said.

“Again, it showed the collusion that there was in his murder between the state and the loyalist paramilitaries at the time.”

Mr Turnley's murder took place just months before the start of the 1980 republican hunger strike.

He was one of several prison H-Block campaigners targeted by the UDA including former IRSP member Miriam Daly (45), who was killed weeks later on June 26 at her home in Andersonstown in west Belfast.

In October that year IRSP members Ronnie Bunting (32) and Noel Little (45) were both shot dead at a house in west Belfast.

Brought up a Protestant, Mr Bunting was a son of Major Ronald Bunting, a former close associate of Rev Ian Paisley.

Although the murders have been attributed to the UDA, the SAS is suspected by some of being involved.

Former IRSP member and H-Block campaigner Bernadette McAliskey was injured in a UDA gun attack at her Co Tyrone home in January 1981.

It later emerged that a British soldiers were watching the house but failed to intervene.

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