British state and the Catholic Church cover-up

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at
Sat Dec 21 11:53:31 MST 2002

Inquiry indicates high-level influence in cover-up
By Dan Keenan , Northern News Editor, in Derry

  The Police Service of Northern Ireland has pointed to a cover-up involving
senior figures in the British state and the Catholic Church which protected
a priest connected with the Claudy bombing of July 1972.

Nine people, three of them children, died after three IRA car-bombs exploded
without warning in the Co Derry village. No one was ever convicted, and the
original RUC investigation was deficient in that arrest opportunities were
lost, it was admitted.

A senior officer yesterday stopped short of making allegations about a
conspiracy, but he pointed to evidence that the Northern secretary at the
time, Mr William Whitelaw, and Cardinal William Conway knew of the priest's

Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kinkaid said yesterday that a review ordered
by him of the original RUC inquiry following had shown that a priest in the
south Co Derry area was clearly active in terrorism.

He declined to name the suspect, but it is understood that the priest was
Father Jim Chesney who was later transferred to Co Donegal and died there in
1980. The review also points to failures on the part of the RUC, and Mr
Kinkaid apologised yesterday to relatives of the bereaved.

In a statement he said that papers discovered by the PSNI review of the
Claudy case showed that the priest had provided an alibi for another suspect
who was prominent in the IRA bombing. He declined to name the second suspect
either, claiming that suspicion was no substitute for hard evidence which
would stand up in court.

Mr Kinkaid further claimed that PSNI inquiries showed that Cardinal Conway,
then Catholic primate of all-Ireland, and an unnamed senior RUC officer were
briefed on the priest's activities not long after the bombing. He added that
papers had been seen which showed that police officers had briefed officials
at the Northern Ireland Office which was then under the late William
Whitelaw, the first Northern secretary.

He said that papers were also found which referred to a discussion between
the Cardinal and Mr Whitelaw on the Claudy bombing on December 5th, 1972.

The following day papers also show that a briefing letter was drafted by an
unnamed senior NIO official and sent to RUC headquarters. This letter
referred to the priest's activities.

Mr Kinkaid revealed that the letter made clear Mr Whitelaw's knowledge of,
and disgust at, the priest's activities and also that the Cardinal knew of
the priest's behaviour. He said the letter stated that the Cardinal
mentioned the possibility of the priest being transferred to a parish in Co

RUC reports show there were no sightings of the priest in Co Derry in early
1973, and intelligence reports indicated he was in Co Donegal. Mr Kinkaid
confirmed that the suspect was never arrested or interviewed about the
Claudy attack or any other paramilitary activity.

There was no evidence to substantiate rumours that the bishop of Derry at
the time, Dr Neil Farren, was involved in matters relating to the priest.

The Assistant Chief Constable ordered the review of the RUC investigation
last August following the 30th anniversary of the outrage. He later widened
its remit following revelations contained in a letter understood to have
come from another priest.

It referred to the bombing and to Father Chesney's alleged involvement. Mr
Kinkaid said the letter's authenticity was still being questioned, and
forensic examinations were ongoing.

Relatives of the Claudy dead were briefed on these latest developments in
the case yesterday by Mr Kinkaid in Derry. A family liaison officer has been
appointed to inform them of developments following yesterday's interim
report, and Mr Kinkaid promised to update them personally in future.

He said no evidence had been found to support rumours that state agencies
had bugged church property, including confession boxes, at the time.

Mr Kinkaid said he was aware that questions were being raised about the
reputations of both Mr Whitelaw and Cardinal Conway, now both deceased. But
he pointed to what he called "the bigger responsibility on the PSNI" to
determine the events at Claudy in 1972.

He said the investigation was awaiting further responses from other state
agencies in relation to the case, including the British army, which had
security primacy at the time. He confirmed that the Garda Síochána was being
contacted in the search for "relevant material" in the Claudy cases.

© The Irish Times

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