On 14 August 1976, Majella O’Hare was on her way to church with a group of friends in the Armagh village of Whitecross. They walked past an army patrol and, when she was about 20 or 30 yards beyond it, shots were fired from a general-purpose machine gun.
Three shells were found on the ground - two of the bullets had hit Majella in the back. Majella was airlifted to Daisy Hill hospital in Newry alongside her father and Alice Campbell, a neighbour and nurse who gave her medical attention, but she was confirmed dead on arrival.
An investigation by the Royal Military Police (RMP) which lacked the necessary independence followed. The soldier claimed he fired in response to an IRA sniper attack and was charged with manslaughter in 1977. The judge in the case, sitting alone with no jury, accepted the soldier’s testimony and acquitted him.
A report from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) outlined the respective failures of the initial investigation, and the steps that were not taken at the time or since. Most importantly, the HET noted the absence of an independent investigation.
In 2011 a letter of apology from the Ministry of Defence corrected the Army’s evidence and acknowledged that the soldier’s account during his trial was ‘unlikely’. The text read:
“I apologise for Majella's death and offer you my heartfelt sympathy. Although many years have passed, I have no doubt that your grief and that of your family has not diminished … both the initial investigation by the RUC and the more recent review have concluded that it was unlikely that there was a gunman in the area when the soldier involved opened fire and struck Majella, as he claimed.
“The soldier's actions resulted in the loss of a young and innocent life, causing sorrow and anguish for those who knew and loved Majella.
“On behalf of the army and the government, I am profoundly sorry that this tragic incident should have happened."
Despite this letter, no independent investigation has ever taken place, and no one has been held accountable for Majella’s killing.
Michael O’Hare, supported by Amnesty International UK, is calling for an independent investigation into the death of his sister. In July 2020 a letter was sent to the Chief Constable ensure a prompt and independent investigation into her death.
The loss had a devastating impact on her family and the grossly inadequate investigation at the time only added to the trauma.
UK Government legacy proposals
The call for the investigation sits against a backdrop of the UK Government reneging on its commitments made in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019 and the New Decade New Approach Agreement in January 2020 to legislate for the Stormont House Agreement and its mechanisms which, with some further work, would meet the UK Government’s human rights obligations and bring an end to the piecemeal approach to dealing with the past.