Northern Ireland news

Vigil to mark 50th anniversary of Derry man's killing

Billy McGreanery was shot dead by a British army sniper early on the morning of September 15 1971.
Seamus McKinney

A vigil will be held in Derry today to mark the 50th anniversary of the killing by the British army of innocent civilian, Billy McGreanery.

Mr McGreanery (41) was shot by a British army sniper as he stood at the junction of Derry’s Laburnum Terrace and Westland Street, between Creggan and the Bogside, early on the morning of September 15, 1971.

His family always claimed his death was in reprisal for the Official IRA shooting of two British soldiers in Creggan earlier in the day. One of the soldiers, Sergeant Martin Carroll subsequently died from his injuries.

The soldier responsible (Soldier A) claimed he fired a single shot at a man who was aiming a rifle at the Bligh’s Lane army base in Lower Creggan. The claim was rejected by eyewitnesses. In 2010, a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) investigation found that the Derry man was not armed and did not pose a threaten to the soldier.

The HET report concluded: “There is an abundance of evidence from the civilian witnesses to say that Mr McGreanery was not armed and therefore posed no threat whatsoever to the soldiers.”

The head of the RUC in Derry at the time, Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan recommended in November 1971 that Soldier A be prosecution for murder. However, RUC headquarters failed to endorse his recommendation and no prosecution took place.

On the back of the HET report, the chief of the British army’s general staff, Sir Peter Wall wrote to the McGreanery family, apologising for their uncle’s death. While the family accepted the general tenor of the letter, the took issue with a claim that the soldier was “mistaken” in his belief that Mr McGreanery had a weapon.

Tonight’s vigil will take place at the junction of Westland Street and Laburnum Terrace at 7pm.

A spokesman for Mr McGreanery’s family said anyone who wished to mark the anniversary would be welcome and stressed that covid-19 restrictions should be observed.

“I would encourage anyone who may be able to help out in other cases to come forward as it’s very important to gather as many witness statements as possible. I understand people are reluctant to speak with the police but this is the only mechanism we have to try to put right the wrongs of the past and obtain justice,” he said.

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