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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

45 YEARS FOR THE TRUTH

Posted by Jim on November 18, 2017

Rulings that the murder of 11-year-old British Army victim Francis
Rowntree was ‘not justified’ and that the rubber bullets fired at him
were lethal have been widely welcomed, although 45 years late and
following the recent death of his mother.

Theresa Rowntree, who had long campaigned for the truth to be revealed
about her young son’s death in 1972, died in a Belfast nursing home in
March – just months before this week’s verdict.

Francis, a pupil at St Finian’s Primary School, was shot in the head by
a rubber bullet on 20 April 1972 while walking through the Divis Flats
complex close to the Falls Road in west Belfast, and died two days
later.

His wounds included skull fractures and lacerations of the brain, in
preliminary inquest findings revealed this week.

The soldier who fired the rubber bullet used “excessive force”, coroner
Brian Sherrard said.

Eye witnesses, including a British Army officer instructing the
soldiers, told the court that a crowd gathered around a vehicle carrying
a number of soldiers which stopped in the area. A number of children had
come to watch the disturbance out of curiosity.

The court also heard that two rounds of rubber bullets were fired by a
soldier to “disperse” the crowd, and that one of the bullets hit the
boy’s head. No warning was given before the shots were fired.

The Coroner noted the soldier was not given any training in the use of
the bullets or made aware they were potentially lethal.

However, Francis’s death did not alter or diminish British strategy in
their efforts to control nationalist areas using rubber and plastic
bullets.

Over the next 17 years, the weapons were responsible for another 16
deaths. Eight of the fatalities, including Francis – a primary school
pupil in west Belfast – were children, ranging in age from 15 to ten.
This week’s ruling could have implications for the families of the other
victims.

His older brother Jim said his family had finally got “a bit of closure”
after 45 years.

“This is the first time that they have decided this gun was lethal. The
government had denied it but now it’s down in black and white,” he said.

“It’s an awful thing that my mother couldn’t have seen it. She died in
March. She knew she was right. She’s looking down on us now – her and
Frank.”

Mr Rowntree said he now wanted an official apology from the British
Ministry of Defence.

The family later issued a statement through their lawyer, Padraig O
Muirigh.

“Many young children were killed and maimed by the rubber bullet and its
successor, the plastic bullet,” the statement said. “Their use, free
from regulation and training, amounted to a systemic abuse of human
rights.

“These findings are not only a legal victory for the Rowntree family but
for all those who campaigned for many years for these lethal weapons to
be banned.”

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