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Northern Ireland: Witnesses to murder of schoolgirl Majella O'Hare demand justice

Witnesses call for the PSNI to establish independent investigation

44 years since 12-year-old Majella O’Hare was shot in the back by a soldier no one held accountable

‘Majella was just lifted like a piece of meat and thrown in [to the helicopter] headfirst…they just wanted to…get rid of her’ – Alice Devlin, witness

New video testimony from witnesses

Witnesses to the death of schoolgirl Majella O’Hare have today spoken out about the horrific events of that day, in powerful new video testimony and are urging the PSNI to establish an independent investigation into her death, which they say should have happened ‘long, long ago’.

Majella was just 12-years-old when she was shot in the back by a soldier using a machine gun 44 years ago, as she walked to church in County Armagh. The soldiers claimed they were firing back at a sniper and witnesses say they felt pressured to confirm the army’s account. An apology from the Ministry of Defence for Majella’s killing in 2011 acknowledged that the soldiers’ version of events was unlikely.

Solicitors – on behalf of Majella’s brother Michael - wrote to the PSNI in July this year, asking it to establish an independent investigation, but a decision is yet to be taken.

Witnesses Alice Devlin and Seamus Reavey have spoken out in support of the calls by Michael O’Hare and Amnesty International for this long overdue investigation.

Alice Devlin, a local nurse who was with Majella as she lay dying on the road and then travelled in the helicopter with her to hospital before she was pronounced dead, said:

“When somebody shouted out, ‘There’s a little girl who’s been shot’, I said, ‘Let me down to her’. The soldier said, ‘Stay where you are’, and they were very, very aggressive.

“Little Majella was laying dying on the road, with her father kneeling over her. You can imagine what it was like for that father to see his child lying dying on the road. The child was badly wounded…I was giving her CPR on the road, the helicopter came and landed.. Her father, Jim, was literally thrown into the helicopter. Majella was just lifted like a piece of meat and thrown in headfirst…they just wanted to get her off the road. Get rid of her.

“I was there, I know what happened. She has to get justice”

Seamus Reavey, a witness to the killing, said: 

“The whole thing was about, ‘How many shots did you hear, you’re bound to have heard more than you’re saying’. You would nearly think they wanted you to tell lies and say you heard x number of shots. There definitely should be an investigation. It should have happened long, long ago

Michael O’Hare, brother of Majella O’Hare, said:

“Witnesses to the death of my sister know what happened that day – my sister was an innocent girl murdered by the British Army. The truth cannot be concealed any longer. We need an investigation – there must be justice for Majella. The truth must out. My family deserve accountability for what happened.”

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, said:

“It has been 44 torturous years for Michael and his family. Justice must be done. Witnesses to the horrific events of that day are ready to help with an independent investigation, the passage of time has not diminished their memory. Their appeal to the PSNI to establish this long overdue investigation must be heard. The family have had an apology from the UK Government, but this rings hollow without action and accountability.”

Need for a human rights compliant way to deal with Northern Ireland’s past

The calls come against a backdrop of the UK Government reneging on their commitment in January 2020 to legislate for Stormont House Agreement and finally deliver a human rights compliant way to deal with the past in Northern Ireland. A written ministerial statement in March indicated a significant departure from the previous position and was criticised by Amnesty as putting a focus on closing down paths to justice and impunity for armed forces for illegal acts. 

Grainne Teggart added: ““This case personifies the injustice of the Government’s current legacy proposals which do little more than seek to close down paths to justice and grant immunity to armed forces. No one is above the law.”

Majella O’Hare murder

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 then. Most importantly, the HET noted the absence of an independent investigation in its entirety.

Despite a letter of apology from the Ministry of Defence in 2011, no independent investigation has ever taken place, and no one has been held accountable for Majella’s killing.


Notes to editors:

Ministry of Defence letter of apology

On 28 March 2011, Owen Paterson, then Northern Ireland secretary, handed a letter of apology from the Ministry of Defence to Majella’s mother at a meeting in Belfast.

The letter was signed by then Defence Secretary Liam Fox and corrected the Army’s account of the evidence, acknowledging 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."

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