British Army Killing: ‘He Had Nothing In His Hand At All’

Eamon Sweeney ( writing in the Derry Journal continues with the theme of British state killings of unarmed civilians in Derry in the 1970s.  

This was the last picture taken of Robert McGuinness before he was killed.

Robert McGuinness was shot in June, 1973
The British said he had a hand gun
His family and witnesses refute the British version of events

A man who was on the scene when the British Army shot Robert McGuinness in June, 1973 has told the Journal that the Brandywell man was totally innocent.

In June this year the Journal highlighted the case of Mr McGuinness who was shot by a soldier from the back of a Saracen on June 22, 1973.

He died from his injuries four days later on June 26, 1973.

The British version of events maintains that the victim was holding a hand gun-something which has been totally refuted by his family and witnesses to the event for 43 years.

In the last few weeks the Journal has taken witness statements from people in the area at the time as well as seeking documentation on the incident from the Ministry of Defence and the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland under the Freedom of Information Act.

The killing of Robert McGuinness was set against the backdrop of the IRA killing of British bomb disposal expert, Captain Barry Griffen in the area two nights previously. It is believed that the killing of Mr McGuinness was an act of revenge for this.
Robert McGuinness pictured outside Renmore army barracks, County Galway, aged 18.

Mr John Curran was 14-years-old at the time and was there at the time and has told the ‘Journal’ that on the night of the killing the British Army were cruising the area and acting provocatively.

He said:

The situation was that the night before a soldier was killed in an explosion at the back of Lecky Road at McConnell’s Garage. There was a lot of tension in the area the next day. There were a lot of things that happened during that day. Friends of mine found parts of the soldier that had been blown up three streets away. There was just that much tension about-it was the 70s. As the day went on there was rioting in Creggan that night and there was a lot of Army presence in the Brandywell in the dark hours on the night of the incident.

There were a lot of us gathered carrying on in the front street (Brandywell Avenue) and Robert was part of the group. We were just fellas carrying on. We were talking generally about what happened the night before. We were saying to one another ‘did you hear the bang’ and ‘don’t be on your own tonight because these boys are hanging about’. It was at time of tit-for-tat shootings. So we knew not to give anybody the opportunity to anything to you. So, the night drew on. It was after 11 o’clock anyway because McCann’s fish shop had just shut in the front street. And, my mother came up and said ‘get you down to the house in case there’s bother here. There was a crowd of fellas that always stood at the corner of Brandywell Avenue. When I went down Brandywell Avenue with my mother there was a ‘pig’ Saracen into the left at Tom Mullan’s House-it was a gap between No 6 and No 8. I went into the house and I could hear another Saracen sitting at the back lane close to Southend Park-the engines were running, they were just sitting there. There were no soldiers out of them. They were just waiting to get someone.

I was sitting in the house-sitting in the only room which was the front room. It was the sitting room, the dining room-everything was in the one room. I could still hear the Saracen’s because there were only wooden framed windows in the house and you hear everything out in the street.

Robert McGuinness aged 7 pictured at Long Tower Primary School. He later attended St Joseph's Secondary School in Creggan.

Being nosey, I kept looking out the window and my mother kept telling me to ‘cut it out’.

She went upstairs to go to bed and then I went out to the front door, opened it and turned out the light which was behind me so I could see what was going on-just to see what they were up to. The engine turned off for a couple of minutes then there was a lot of banging of the back doors of the Saracen. Then the engines started up again. I saw a couple of people walking across the street up the side of Southend Park.

The Saracen was at the back end of Southend Park and came out onto Brandywell Avenue, across and down onto Brandywell Road-it travelled on a bit but you could then hear it stop. I knew because of the noise of the brakes. Then the one at the side of Tom Mullan’s house, at the side of No 6 Brandywell Avenue, came out and turned left down towards Brandywell football pitch.

Just at that Robert came around the corner. There were a lot of fellas at the top of the street and they were cat calling as the army pulled out. There were two cars parked at the corner at Southend Park. Robert proceeded to walk between the Saracen and the two parked cars. He had nothing in his hands. Nothing at all.

The boys up the street were calling to him. I think he might have shouted something back to them. I can’t be sure because of the noise of the Saracen’s. Just as he got to the back of the Saracen, I heard the bang. Then my mother was behind me shouting at me to ‘get away from the door’. I said they have hit Robert. You see the sort of light that that came after the shot at the corner.

The Saracen moved off-it didn’t stop. It had been crawling at about 2mph then went up to 5 or 7mph and it turned to follow the second Saracen onto Brandywell Road. I ran onto the street to the corner. I don’t know whether it was nerves or what it was. And I looked at Robert and the other fellas were running down the street towards him. I said ‘you bastards you shot him’.

A plaque in memory of Robert McGuinness erected by some of his friends in the Brandywell area of the city.

I knew it wasn’t a rubber bullet. You could tell the difference between a rubber bullet and a rifle shot.

I ran and I jumped at the back of the Saracen to look in. I tried to grab the guy that fired. He had gold-rimmed glasses. He was looking at me. Then the Saracen took off at speed. Then a girl came around the corner and grabbed me and pulled me off the Saracen.

She and my mother pulled me up the street. There was another fella who also came out into the street. He has since died, his name was Peter McCallion. The girl grabbed hold of him and told him ‘they’ll shoot you. Peter, they’ll shoot you too’.

All the other fellas were shouting about Robert, ‘he’s shot, he’s shot’.

Then there was a commotion in the street.

There was a taxi office at the top of the street. One of the taxis reversed down the street and they put Robert into the back of it. I remember well the car was a black K70. It was one of the cars they had. It was a car of the time.

I remember Robert being out in the back of it and I could see the blood all over the seat when they put him into the car.

I was 14 at the time. I remember the soldier in the back of the Saracen with the gold-rimmed glasses. He was definitely the one that discharged the shots. I remember looking at the rifle and it wasn’t a SLR. It definitely wasn’t a SLR.

Robert pictured with some of his friends in the Irish Army.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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