HARTE COYLE COLLINS SOLICITORS & ADVOCATES
LEGACY INQUEST INTO THE DEATH OF PATRICK DUFFY ON 24TH NOVEMBER 1978 FIXED FOR HEARING IN 2023
5th APRIL 2022
The Presiding Coroner in Belfast, Mr Justice Humphries confirmed on the 22nd of March 2022 that the fresh inquest into the shooting of Mr Patrick Duffy by British soldiers on the 24th of November 1978 will be fixed for hearing in 2023. This legacy inquest is one of 10 cases of the 22 recently reviewed by the High Court in February and March 2022 which will now proceed to hearing.
Patrick Duffy was shot dead just after 9pm on the 24th of November 1978 while in 2 Maureen Avenue, Derry by members of the British army. Mr Duffy was 50 years of age at the time of his death. He was married with 6 children, one of whom, Marguerite was sitting in a car outside the house at the time of the shooting with her 7 month old nephew. He died instantly from his injuries.
Pathology evidence at the original inquest, held on the 9th and 10th December 1980, confirmed that Patrick Duffy was shot at least 11 times but up to 14. The same evidence confirmed that bullets were fired from his left-hand side or behind him into his back with at least 2 of these shots being at close range to the left side of his chest. Mr Duffy was alone and unarmed at the time of the shooting.
During the course of the first inquest 2 members of the British army, anonymised as Soldiers B and C, submitted written statements of evidence to the inquest proceedings in which they admitted that they were responsible for shooting Mr Duffy. Both soldiers provided the written witness statements to police in Northern Ireland when accompanied by a Major attached to Army Legal Services. These witness statements were tendered as evidence at the 1980 inquest. Neither soldier gave oral evidence at the inquest nor were they subjected to cross examination by the lawyers for the family in 1980.
In their statements Soldiers B and C stated that they were tasked to enter the house at 2 Maureen Avenue where they were initially stationed in an upstairs room at 2 Maureen Avenue, Derry on the 24th of November 1978. A further Soldier, Soldier A was stationed in the attic of the house. He did not give evidence at the inquest.
A further witness statement from the Commander of the Unit, Soldier E, who provided a written deposition to the 1980 inquest, confirmed that he deployed Soldiers B and C to the property at 1.00am on the 23rd of November 1978 with instructions to enter the property in plain clothes and then change into their uniform. Soldiers B and C alleged that they searched the house, found no illegal weapons, and then secreted themselves in the attic. The MOD indicated at a recent hearing that Soldier E has died since the grant of the fresh inquest.
The military evidence at the 1980 inquest went on to state that Mr Duffy entered the house and upstairs room at 9.20pm on the evening of the 24th of November 1978. Soldier B fired at Patrick Duffy, alleging self-defence. Soldier C came behind Solder B and also fired into the room. Both Soldiers alleged that fired their weapons in automatic mode from outside the room. The pathology evidence confirms that the vast majority of the bullets that struck Mr Duffy entered his back and side. The other bullets fired at close range, entered his chest. The pathologist concluded that the wounds to Mr Duffy were caused by 9mm calibre ammunition.
A senior police detective gave evidence at the 1980 inquest that the wardrobe which held the weapons and ammunition in the upstairs room was locked.
The 1980 inquest concluded with an open verdict from the jury. The family of Mr Duffy, including his now deceased wife Mrs Moira Duffy, have long campaigned for a fresh inquest to explore the circumstances of his shooting.
An application to the Attorney General John Larkin QC for a fresh was submitted on the 2nd of November 2015. In preparing for the application solicitors searched for civilian witnesses in Derry. At least 4 civilian witnesses came forward who had not given evidence to the original inquest. The application for a fresh inquest included the newly unearthed civilian witness evidence. In addition to new civilian evidence lawyers for the family also lodged thematic submissions to the Attorney General on the thematic pattern of shoot to kill policies and cases in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s.
The direction for a fresh inquest was issued to the Coroner by the Attorney General on the 22nd of March 2019. The Attorney General directed the fresh inquest on the basis that Patrick Duffy’s shooting by the military was unjustified and that no reason had been provided by the MOD as to why Soldiers B and C could not now be called to give evidence at a fresh inquest. In his decision letter the Attorney General stated;
“At its core, there is in this case the death by shooting of an unarmed man by, it seems, two soldiers who may have been dressed as civilians. In common with the practice at the time neither of those soldiers gave evidence at the inquest. There does not, on the materials available to me, appear to be any objective justification for shooting Mr Duffy.”
“The MOD has not made any further contact with my Office regarding this case since November 2017 and, with the exception of Soldier E who appears unlikely to be available, I consider that there is at present the potential for military evidence to be considered now that was not previously available.”
Solicitor for the family, Patricia Coyle, said today;
“Patrick Duffy was gunned down while alone and unarmed, peppered with between 11 and 14 bullets and shot at close range at least twice. There was no attempt to stop and question or arrest him. The killing of Patrick Duffy, conducted by a plain clothes military unit, was unjustified. It is considered that Mr Duffy’s killing is one of the earliest examples of the use of lethal force by the British army in Northern Ireland when an arrest was possible and such forces was not necessary.
During the course of the autopsy which took place on the 25th of November 1978 a bullet a deformed copper jacketed bullet was removed from Mr Duffy by the pathologist and handed directly to police. There is no reason this bullet cannot be made available for up-to-date ballistic analysis to trace it to the weapon and therefore the soldier responsible.
The legal restriction on the 1980 inquest, which did not permit the compellability of suspects and armed forces personnel to attend to give evidence and be cross-examined, rendered that inquest ineffective. Persons suspected of involvement in Mr Duffy’s killing are now compellable witnesses. My clients welcome the decision by the Presiding Coroner Mr Justice Humphries for the courts to hear this inquest in 2023. Their priority is to access all information and materials to establish the truth about their father’s death, whether it was pre-planned, which element of the British military was responsible and whether the shooting was directed at political level as part of a shoot to kill policy.”
Mr Duffy’s daughter, Martina Duffy, has preserved the clothes her father wore on the date of the shooting for over 40 years in the hope that a fresh investigation might involve independent examination. Those items of clothing, and in particular her father’s coat, will now be available for forensic and ballistic examination by the Coroner’s Service.
Martina Duffy, daughter of Mr Duffy, speaking on behalf of the family said today;
“We welcome the decision by the Coroner that the inquest into my father’s death will be heard in 2023. We are anxious to have the inquest heard while we are all still alive. The original inquest did not get to the truth of how and who in the MOD was responsible for my father’s terrible killing in 1978. His death devastated my mother, me and my 5 brothers and sisters at the time and continues to do so today. We welcome the opportunity to now participate and to be represented before this fresh inquest. It is just a pity that my mother, my brother Patrick and my sister Mary are not alive to see this progress.”