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Tuesday 24 April 2018

Soldiers' blood on secret documents

Father Alec Reid administered the last rites to two soldiers murdered by the IRA in Belfast
Father Alec Reid administered the last rites to two soldiers murdered by the IRA in Belfast

An envelope containing a key document which helped trigger the peace process in Northern Ireland was smeared with the blood of two soldiers murdered by the IRA in Belfast, a new TV documentary reveals.

Father Alec Reid, a Catholic priest, had the document under his arm when he kneeled to anoint the bodies of the two men who were shot after they accidentally drove into the path of a republican funeral in March 1988,

It was a discussion paper prepared by republicans and which was to be delivered to the then SDLP leader John Hume as part of secret dialogue he was having at that time with the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Corporals Derek Wood, 24, and David Howes, 23, were dragged from the car by a mob, taken away, beaten, stripped and then killed. Their bodies were found by Father Reid who had earlier been threatened with being shot if he refused to move away from where the two soldiers were lying.

Later he fell to his knees, tried to give one the kiss of life, before administering the last rites.

It was one of the most telling images throughout the years of conflict and political upheaval in Northern Ireland, and happened just days after the loyalist Michael Stone opened fire on mourners at Milltown Cemetery who had been attending the funerals of three IRA volunteers shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar.

The crowd who seized the soldiers initially feared it was another loyalist attack, this time on the funeral of one of the three men Stone killed with gunfire and grenades in the cemetery.

As well as his lips, there was blood also on the brown envelope which Sinn Fein had asked the Redemptorist priest to hand over. He took it back to Clonard Monastery, west Belfast where he was based, put the document into a new envelope and gave it to the SDLP leader at his house in Londonderry two days later.

The documentary examines that particularly tense and violent fortnight in March, 1988 during which 12 people were killed at a time when Northern Ireland was in a deep crisis with no sign of a political settlement. The chain of events started with the SAS killings in Gibraltar and ended with the horror of the two soldiers, both members of the Royal Signals Regiment, being dragged to their deaths.

Fourteen Days by DoubleBand Films is on BBC One (Northern Ireland) on Monday at 9pm.

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