In late May 1973 I was 3 months into a 4 year sentence in Long Kesh - sentenced in February for an explosives charge. I had turned 18 in March. The first Saturday in April I, along with a fellow prisoner, escaped from the camp by concealing ourselves in a trailer used to take rubbish out to a dump. We were apprehended the same day and for a number of subsequent days were subjected to a series of horrific beatings at the hands of the screws, many looking revenge for an officer who had been injured in trying to bring our little sojourn to a premature end.
We spent a month on the boards before returning to Compound 15 which then housed the young prisoner population - YP's. The reason I was in 15 was because in those days if you were under 18 and sentenced you had to claim political status by writing a board paper to the NIO. This normally took about 3 or 4 weeks. By late May we were still there after many attempts to persuade us not to seek political status. On requesting another board paper it was decided to send us back to the boards as punishment with the aim being to dishearten us in our attempts to get across to the Special Category Cage 11.
We were back on the boards about two weeks around the 3rd June. The building that housed the boards then was situated just inside the gates in the bottom phase, where the vast majority of IRA internees were being held. I had worked in some of those compounds - helped fill a tunnel in in Cage 3 - and the boards were very close to Cage 5. I can't remember who was in charge of that particular Cage but I know that Freddie Scapaticci was the O/C of 3 or 4, because I had an "altercation" with him - which is another story for another time!!
The boards weres a small rectangular shaped building with a small rception/toilet area and six cells. We were the only 2 prisoners there at this time so to try and give us as little chance to communicate with each other as possible I was in cell 1 and Billy in cell 6. Anyone who has served CC - cellular confinement - will attest to the boredom: a real Groundhog Day feeling. Every day was virtually a re run of the one before but Sundays were worse again. Less screws about usually meant less recreation. We were in essence "entitled" to an hour's exercise a day together. On occasions though a friendly soul of a screw may have let you out on the fly for a while - but it didn't happen often.
On Sunday 3rd June sometime around the middle of the day - after lunch for sure because my dirty dinner dishes were still at the door - we were let out each time to wash our own dishes. I heard a bit of a racket outside. I thought at first it was a new prisoner coming on the boards and was getting roughed up. I tried in vain to see out the gap in the door. It was obvious there were quite a number of screws there as I could make out lots of different voices. The commotion went on for quite a while but eventually subsided. I dozed off as I did most days.
The sound of the door being unlocked woke me. A screw told me it was time to wash my dishes and go to the toilet if needed. I picked the dishes up and moved to go the ablutions area - only a cell's width away. In the narrow passageway outside the ablutions and reception area lay a stretcher. On it covered in a jail issue grey blanket was a body. I could only see a portion of hair-nothing else. My immediate reaction was to think that the screws were having a laugh at my expense and fully expected the body to jump up. I sidesteppeed the stretcher to wash my dishes. As I did so I could hear the other screws tittering and laughing. There were 4 or 5 in total - unusual for a Sunday. I returned to the cell again to the sound of giggling.
The act was repeated on Billy - who told me later that he too had been sleeping and virtually tripped over the stretcher which made the screws guffaw. Later in the afternoon we heard the body being removed - again with difficulty. It transpired that because of the smallness of the building it was virtually impossible to turn the stretcher in the tight confines. We received an hours exercise together later. I remember it as a nice warm bright day. We sat outside against the block wall for a yarn. The screw who was left on duty chatted to us for a while and during the course of the conversation gave us what information he knew. Paddy Crawford was an internee and the story was that he hanged himself. Although even at that time-hours later there was scepticism.
Whilst we sat there a priest came past, walking towards the gate that led outside. Billy called him, ostensibly for a cigarette, which amazingly to me he gave him!! We tried to wangle some more info out of the priest - who I don't believe was Father Faul - but he only told us that Crawford had taken his own life. In the months that followed, as far as memory serves me, there was always a suspicion that Crawford had been murdered for supplying information.
There are parallels with another death in Long Kesh - on Christmas Night the same year. Geordie Hyde was a 19 year old UDA man from Portadown who was beaten to death in a Nissen hut in Compound 9 - at that time a Loyalist remand cage - again after allegations of being an informer. There were 30 odd other people there who were moved en bloc to a wing in Crumlin Road jail but no one was ever made accessible for the killing: again parallels with the Crawford killing. Perhaps there was an attitude at the time - from the authorities - that the paramilitaries were only carrying out a bit of housekeeping, and that the victims simply didn't warrant attention. And now 40 years later both men are only footnotes in an exceedingly long register of death.