Paddy Joe Crawford: A View from the Boards

Guest writer Beano Niblock, then a loyalist prisoner, shares his memory of the day Paddy Joe Crawford died.


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.


  1. Great piece Beano. These type of accounts are so valuable for the record.

  2. Here is a dimension to the Paddy Joe Crawford story that very few seemed to know about before now.

  3. Beano,
    The beating to death is equally deplorable.
    Could these men if suspected of anything not have just been put out of the cages?
    It's the senseless of it . You mention the bold Scap only briefly I know, but therein lies the sheer hypocrisy .

  4. Nuala,

    the attitude of the screws said so much. And it wasgood to hear from a loyalist prisoner about screw violence. It has so often been dismissed as republican propaganda.

  5. Mackers,
    Some of the screws would have relished in such happenings.
    It's forty years ago and it is still unreal that such things could have happened.
    I know Paddy Joe didn't have a family but someone must have been devastated.
    As Tain Bo has said on another thread, he probably looked on those in the cage with him as family.
    What about the Loyalist prisoner, how would a family take that ,murdered in prison.

  6. Beano-

    A good read of a bit of your history- I am glad you wrote it-

    The Attitude of those screws towards a dead person on the stretcher says it all about them-
    With all those smirks-goating yous
    -twittering its a wonder you did not mention this to the priest when he was giving out a cig and you were looking for more info in what happened young Crawford-

    I don't see any Parallels between that UDA member who was beaten up inside the prison compounds by his own and the Crawford case-

  7. helped fill a tunnell in.In other words you worked for them..nuff said.

  8. Michael Henry
    Two men murdered by their own, in prison for the same alleged offences and you don't see any comparison ?

  9. Fionnuala-

    Do you think the dark murdered or ordered one of them dead-he Was OC of Belfast and a great friend of Gerry Adams after that event-he said so himself-plenty of times-

    Two men-one beat to death the other hung himself to death-I see no connection and I don't see you bothering the UDA leadership looking for answers-neither as anyone else for some strange reason-

  10. Beano

    Very interesting piece, keep them coming because the experiences of the Loyalist prisoners needs to be told. The sheer boredom of prison is another subject which is rarely touched on, especially by the Republican side who prefer tales of the heroic struggles.

    I wonder if Paddy Joe received a christian funeral back then, aren't people who commit suicide denied that right? Forgive me but I'm a non Christian so not sure about this.

    Just thought it might be relevant as it would give an indication about how the Catholic church viewed this young man's tragic death.

  11. Michael Henry,
    Why would I think the 'Dark' ordered anything. In all likelihood it was Adams, who later acted as Pontius Pilate when the heat comes on.
    Ask the UDA. A past member of a Loyalist group has stated that a man was beaten to death for allegedly being an informer. What should I ask?

    He would have received a Christian burial. The Catholic Church as did other religions always maintained suicide was a mortal sin.
    At one point, anyone who committed suicide would not have been entitled to the last rites, a Christian burial or allowed to be buried in consecrated ground.
    In the twentieth century that all changed.

    Suicide was regarded as murder of the self and considered breaking the sixth commandment .
    Ironically, you could be forgiven for murder if you confess of course, but then you can't confess if you are dead, therefore,the forever insult would be no Christian trappings attached to the final rite of passage.
    All very Un-Christian of course !!

  12. Mickey,

    Setting aside your personal intolerance on the issue of suicide a minor but very relevant detail comes to mind.
    The act of suicide is extremely personal and extremely private keeping in mind you accept the Provo narrative but where exactly in the cages would complete privacy be guaranteed for this young man to hang himself?

    It would make more sense if the man actually was suicidal then he would have scoped out a blind spot or somewhere isolated in order to hang himself.
    The fact that he shared a confined space with other POWs would definitely rule out the very necessary privacy needed.
    As a person intent on ending their own life usually pick an isolated or private space for the basic reason that they wouldn’t want anyone intervening and attempting to save them.
    The other thing that you overlook is the actual act of hanging perhaps Hollywood has a lot of sins to answer for as it is not like you see in the old westerns.

    Hanging is found throughout time and history a preferred method of execution and through much trial and error eventually perfected almost to a fine art yet still subject to error resulting in a long slow painful death.

    To believe the Provo narrative I would have to believe that somehow this man came across the necessary item that would be strong enough to hold his body weight and then find a suitable beam or rafter or something else he could attach the rope, cord, sheet or whatever the specific item was around.
    Find a stool or box or something he could gain sufficient height on. Balance on the box tie the rope around his neck and somehow kick away whatever he was standing on fall and begin violently kicking and flailing as the act of suffocation could take as long as 3 to 5 minutes. And it would be violent as every instinct for self survival kicks in trying to free the body.
    And this young man managed to do all this in silent stealth mode and no one heard anything.

    Is it plausible he did commit suicide yes is it likely that was the case definitely not.

    Upon first reading the article the Provo suicide narrative struck a deep chord in me it also reminded me of another senseless and needless murder by hanging.
    That of Vol. Tomás Mac Uilliam in that hellhole the Crumlin Road Gaol not satisfied with murdering him at the end of an English noose they decided that the body of Tom Williams would remain in their keep for no other reason than to humiliate the young man his family and friends by denying them their right to hold a fitting burial.

    I mention that as the same humiliation applies in the case of Paddy Joe Crawford
    Will the truth ever be told will his name ever be cleared affording the man at least a little dignity in memory of him.

  13. From Beano


    in the case of the killing of Geordie Hyde the point you make about putting the men out of the cages basically wouldn't have been an option-nor would it have been practical. There were around thirty prisoners-who were taken to Crumlin Road jail to be questioned. It is highly unlikely that all of those people took part in the death.

    The suggestion around PJ Crawford's death is that there was a small number of men who carried out the hanging-it is likely that was the case in Hyde's murder as well. What is also likely is that both killings were carried out simply because the respective prisoners had made statements implicating others-as opposed to being informants.

    The conspiracy theorists among us may consider the possibility that both were killed to cover someone else. Not out of the question, I feel-but highly unlikely.

    Michael Henry-are you being disingenuous when you say that you see no parallels in both deaths? You are obviously of the belief that Crawford did indeed commit suicide. If he didn't-or was assisted in doing so-then there are obvious parallels that need no further explanation.

    Billy Brooks-I am not sure how long you spent in Long Kesh - or any of the other jails-or indeed if any of that time included a spell in the YP system of Cages 13 and 15 between 1972-74. During my time there, many prisoners came through the system-all between 17 and 20 years old. Many of them were ODC's but a large percentage where aligned to different paramilitary groupings-both Loyalist and Republican. On occasion we bucked the system-and were punished for it-physically through beatings and in other ways-loss of priveleges etc: Bit I never seen anyone refuse wholesale to be part of the work parties. Most young prisoners seen working as a way of getting out of the mundane life in the huts-unless you were a hut orderly/ By throwing barrow loads of cement down a hole perhaps I thought that I was doing a service by preventing IRA men-my enemy-from escaping. And incidentally on that particular work party-about 8 of us-two of them were young Fianna-just like me-waiting on word that their board papers were ratified from the NIO and ensuring their passage into the special category cages.

    One of the feelings I have always had about those days in the YP's was how little difference there was between young IRA men and young Loyalists like myself. To illustrate that...I was sentenced on Tuesday-arrived in Cage 13 on Wednesday. On Friday morning around 7:30 am I was getting washed before going out with the work party I had been assigned to-my first prison job-picking sprouts-not a nice task in February!! Half a dozen screws bustled into the toilet block-the purpose-a snap inspection to make sure everyone was shaving!! I was at the first sink-an S.O. grabbed me by the chin and made the remark that I had bum fluff and therefore had to shave. I responded by telling him I didn't shave-I hadn't started. Too bad was the answer-you start now. I told him I had no razor. He told me to borrow one and the jail would arrange to get me one for the next day. I asked the young lads next to me to lend me a razor-the first 3 that I asked were like me-they hadn't started shaving yet. Two were young IRA men from West Belfast-both with long hair as they still had outstanding charges to answer and couldn't change their appearance. Eventually I got the loan of an open razor from one of the "old hands". A fella from Larne. He had been there a year and was nearing a release date. He was an experienced prisoner of 18 years old.

  14. Beano,
    I was asking why they could not have put Geordie out of the cage if they suspected him?
    Just as it is a mystery why Paddy Joe was not removed rather than killed.

  15. Mickey,

    I to would also like to hear why you see no parallel in the two deaths.
    Both brutal and both administered by the respective Paramilitaries.

    You ask Nuala to go ask the UDA why? Do you find the narrative misleading or is it too much for your SF is infallible mind to accept the fact that the narrative confirms the loyalists beat the young lad to death.

    On what grounds are you so dismissive that the young lad wasn’t lynched what convincing beyond a shadow of doubt evidence could you provide that it was a case of suicide?
    Things inside and outside of the jails at that time in both communities brutal street justice was meted out and depending on the alleged crime certain punishments were handed out.
    Those unfortunate enough to be accused of informing were almost guaranteed a death sentence.

    Take the Jean Mc Conville case the Provo narrative on that was denial and a few creative other stories.
    So we can establish that the Provos were not always truthful about certain deaths and mysterious circumstances.

    The suicide line resembles other lines used by them when denying their role and even you can’t deny or escape that fact.

    The only time you would agree that he was murdered is if the Chief of all liars Gerry Adams admitted as much.

  16. From Beano

    Sorry-I mis-read your comment. The reason that Hyde wouldn't have been put out of the cage is because then it wouldn't be seen that he was punished-my opinion of course. If he was indeed an informer-or was thought to have been one-the a message would have to be sent to anyone else who may have had thoughts of being one too. Similarly in the case of PJ Crawford. If he was indeed strangled and hanged someone in that Cage with authority-or an adjoining Cage-- made a huge decision to carry that act out. Many young men right across the board in the early days made written statements-some implicated others-but hanging someone and staging a suicide by hanging is an extreme measure to say the least if that is the reason he was killed. In a Cage that then must have housed 60/70 internees it is surprising that all these years later very few of them have cast light on the incident. Ditto Compound 9 six months later.

  17. Beano,
    By informer do you mean he was actively working as an agent in the cages?
    If that was the case he could have been put out of the Loyalist cages and dealt with outside.
    If he informed during interrogation, then that is entirely different. I think anyone who done that, had the disgrace of having to mingle amongst their own comrades and of course their own conscience.
    I don't see any difference in what happened to Geordie or Paddy Joe and I don't know how anyone could have taken part in either.