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17 May 2022

The detective said: 'How many brothers have you got? I said I had two... he then said: You've only got one now'

Leo Young reveals how he was first informed of his brother John's death and his shock at the army's allegations levelled at the young boy whose life he tried to save

The detective said: 'How many brothers have you got? I said I had two... he then said: You've only got one now'

“The Detective said, 'How many brothers have you got?'. I said I had two. He then said, 'You've only got one now'.”

Leo Young reflects on how he first heard of his brother John's death. It had already been a traumatic 48 hours.

Two days before he was marching for Civil Rights – a passage of events evolved that saw him frantically searching for his brother, trying to save the life of a young boy, had been scooped up by the army and interrogated with swab samples taken.

Now a policeman, who appeared to be getting a kick out of it, was telling him in the crudest way possible that his brother had died.

Leo would later spend the next 50 years maintaining that the boy he tried to save was not carrying any bombs on him as the army was saying.

That boy of course was Gerry Donaghy who Leo along with two others had been trying to get to hospital before being stopped and arrested by the army. Leo would then trudge from house to house to see if the dead body inside each of them was the boy he was trying to save.

After visiting a number of houses, he finally saw Gerry again – this time dead.

As for John, Leo recalls him fondly – he was 16 years his junior and the baby of the house. John was affable and good company – even if you had only just met him Leo says you would have had a new friend.

He said: “John left school when he was fifteen – and he was dead when he was seventeen. Back in 1971, he was working for a coalman and was also in a band – it was a minor one but he'd have been getting the bookings for them.

“He only had two years of his life after school. We'd a sister that had left for America and she was always on at John to come over. Sadly that never got to happen.

“John was the youngest in our family – I was sixteen when he was born – so he was the golden boy and got spoilt.

“But once he grew up, he never had a chance in life like so many other young people in Derry back then. Young people in 1970 had nothing compared to young people today.

“You had your gang of mates that you knocked around with but there were no great prospects about.

“On the day itself, John and his pals had already headed off to the march when I arrived at the family home. I sort of knew which way they would have went had there been any trouble – and that's what transpired.

“He was on William Street alright and was probably throwing stones down there too I would think. He then moved off down Rossville Street and that was where he met his fate.

“I had reached William Street where the crowd had stopped. We could see stones being thrown and hear the rubber bullets being fired.

“I then tried to make my way to Free Derry Corner but by the time I got there, there was a whole change of circumstance. I could hear sounds of gunfire which I thought might have been rubber bullets but then you heard 'crack, crack, crack' – which was when I started to get scared at the whole situation.

“I was about forty yards from where John was shot – but at the time I had no idea that anyone had been shot at that point.

“John was up against the wall when Willie Nash and Michael McDaid was shot. He went to do what I did with Gerry to see if they were OK.

“He went over but the soldiers fired and shot him in the head – John paid the ultimate price.”

Meanwhile, Leo was also running across ground to see if someone who had been shot was OK.

While Leo would not suffer the same fate as John, his efforts to try and save the young boy who had fallen, Gerry Donaghy, would have consequences.

“There were two bodies lying on the ground and me and a woman who was nearby went to them,” says Leo. “She went to the one closest to her (Gerald McKinney) and I went to the young lad (Gerald Donaghy).

“I then pulled the wee boy lying on the ground towards the wall. While I'm doing that, John was being shot at the barricade on Rossville Street. Meanwhile, myself and a few others are trying to find out who this young lad was.

“We searched his clothes but couldn't find anything that gave a name or an address. A doctor then came in and opened this boy's shirt and we found his stomach was all hanging out.

“So of course the doctor says we had to get him to the hospital. We carried the body out the back and into a car. I was planning to get him into the car and then getting out so I could go and look for John. I didn't want to go to the hospital but the door was locked.

“We took off in the car and there was me and the young fella there and I'm holding on to him. His head was on my chest and the rest of him was across my lap.

“I kept telling him to hold on but his face was very pale. We later found out this was Gerry Donaghy but at the time we didn't know who he was – I wouldn't find out until two days after Bloody Sunday.

Gerry Donaghy whose life Leo would try to save. However, the car they were in were stopped by an army patrol. The next time Leo saw him would be in an open coffin at Gerry's home. Leo denies the army's claims that Gerry was carrying explosives saying that when he and others searched him to find out who he was, they had only found Rosary beads.

“The car was stopped at a checkpoint and instead of helping us with the young lad, the army arrested us. They moved the car away with Gerry in it and we were kept there until half four in the evening.

“We were then moved to the barracks. They took my clothes off me and started taking swabs off my hands. From there we were moved to the police station. At around eight o' clock, I was again moved to an army camp in Ballykelly.

“I was interrogated there by the army who were asking me about this young lad. I couldn't tell them anything as I had never seen him before in my life until I saw his body on the ground earlier that day.

“I was questioned all night and then two days later, they let me go. A detective came in and shouted 'Is there a Young here'. I said I was and he replied, 'F*** off out now'.

“As I made to leave, he then shouted, 'How many brothers have you got?'. I said I had two. He then said, 'You've only got one now'.

“I started walking towards Creggan where my mother was. There was an atmosphere around the streets I was walking on. When I was halfway up, someone who knew me slowed down their car and asked if I needed a lift. But I'd been kept in for so long that I needed to walk for a breath of air.

“Even though the detective had said what he had said, I just couldn't get my head round it at all. It still hadn't registered. But then I got to my mother's house and there were people outside the door. It started then to dawn on me that something had happened to John.

“I got into the house and was told what had happened. John had been shot and so had so many others as well. Because I'd been held by the army, I didn't know that other people had died.

“A doctor came round and gave me a wee sedative which knocked me out for a while. When I got up, John's body was already out at home.

“I started to enquire about the wee boy that I had in the car that was stopped on the way to the hospital. Because they also didn't know who he was, they couldn't tell me if he had made it or not.

“I then had the grim task of going house to house to have a look at the dead body in each of them to see if one of them was the young lad. Then eventually, after visiting a number of houses, I found him.”

To compound the agony even further on the grieving Donaghy family, a line was put out by the British Army that Gerry was armed with a number of explosive nail bomb devices on his person. An allegation vehemently denied by Leo.

He added: “The British Army had already been saying that Gerry was carrying nail bombs on him. That was completely untrue.

“I watched people searching him – I couldn't search his lower body as I was holding his head. All that was found on him was Rosary beads. There was nothing sticking out of his pockets.

“If there had been nail bombs like the army and police were saying, we would have not been able to miss them. He had nothing on him.

“Even when the soldiers stopped the car we were in, they themselves searched him and didn't find anything. You would have thought one of them might have mentioned that this lad had a bomb on him.

“Years later, at the Saville Enquiry, Lord Saville acknowledged my input but effectively called me a liar. I would never have moved that young fella if I'd have thought he had a bomb on him.

“Saville said that he couldn't rule out the possibility of Gerry having explosives on him despite a number of people, including myself, insisting that he had nothing on him.

“You know, looking back, when I was in the barracks and they've taken my clothes and taken swabs off me, how come nothing showed up on my swabs if Gerry was 'so contaminated' with explosive residue. I had been holding onto him.”

Following Bloody Sunday, while many were grieving, other minds were turned on revenge.

A number of people, seeing the brutal manner in which their peaceful demands for basic civil rights were cut down, went to join the Provisional IRA.

Leo himself harboured such thoughts and was only stopped following an ultimatum from his wife.

He continued: “It's something I have to admit to as it did cross my mind. It crossed a lot of people's minds.

“However, my wife told me that if I had done that, that would have been the end of everything. At the end of the day, I couldn't do it.

“But I understood why others did join. Thirteen people shot dead, fourteen wounded as well and had the bullet been higher, lower or to the left or right and they'd have been dead too. Of course I understand why people joined.”

Fast forward 50 years and the quest for justice now seems to be a distance away, despite Lord Saville's report and then-Prime Minister David Cameron's condemnation of the soldiers' conduct when the findings were published in 2010.

Leo said: “You can see the line that they're taking. It's like what happened in South Africa (after apartheid fell) when amnesties were given to all sides.

“That's the sorest point in all of this. We as a family were never involved with the police – not even for driving offences. At the end of the day, John was murdered.

“If a Prime Minister can, like David Cameron did when the Saville Report was released, come out and say the soldier's actions were 'unjustified' and 'unjustifiable', why can't there be any prosecutions?”

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