'While there's a breath in my body, I will never give up' – Billy McGreanery

Family of 1971 British Army victim speak out

'While there's a breath in my body, I will never give up' – Billy McGreanery

Majorie Roddy and Billy McGreanery, the niece and nephew of Billy McGreanery who was shot dead by a British soldier in September 1971. Picture from

Relatives of a man shot dead by a British soldier in Derry almost 50 years ago have spoken of their determination to completely clear his name of any implication that he was a gunman.

Billy McGreanery was killed by a member of the Grenadier Guards in the early hours of September 15, 1971. Whilst, the ex-serviceman accepts that he killed the victim, the Open Verdict recorded at an Inquest in February 1972 has left a blemish on Mr McGreanery's character as far as his family are concerned.

A second report by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) declared that Billy McGreanery was unarmed and posed no threat when the man known only as Soldier A, discharged a single round from an observation post between the edges of the Creggan estate and the Bogside.

The findings of the HET were followed in 2011 by an apology for the killing from British Army Chief of Staff, Sir Peter Wall.

But, in 1971, Derry's leading police officer Frank Lagan and another senior RUC man had determined that Soldier A should be prosecuted for the murder of Billy McGreanery. The recommendation was quickly quashed by then Attorney General Sir Basil Kelly.

However, documents uncovered by the Pat Finucane Centre and dated just weeks after Billy McGreanery's killing, show that successive Attorney-General's for Northern Ireland gave assurances to British Army chiefs that they were willing to liaise closely with the military before any decision on the prosecutions of soldiers were made.

The victim's nephew, also called Billy McGreanery, told the Derry News: “Whether they furnish us with the justice we deserve is entirely in the hands of the state.”

The family of Billy McGreanery has said that they will never give up seeking justice for him.

Mr McGreanery's nephew, also called Billy, told the Derry News: “I'll never give up, while's there a breath in my body.”

Billy McGreanery said of his uncle: “Billy was a very enthusiastic sportsman all his life and ended up working in a sports shop that catered for both sides of the community.

“He was liked and appreciated by both sides of the community because of that. In terms of my personal relationship with him, he was my uncle but it was more than that.

“My mother died when I was a year and three months my father had just one brother, Billy, and no sisters. My granny reared us, and the way it was that Billy came up to see his mother and was never without sweets for us. He came up on a regular basis. He would also come up to my father on a Saturday night and they'd go and have a drink and come back and they might have rolled back the carpet and and have a wee dance with my granny. That's the way it was and so he was a bit closer than an uncle.

“My father worked night shifts in the gas yard, and not to take away from my father, but Billy was almost like a secondary father. As I say, Billy and my father Dessie were very, very close and when the shooting happened, well when the murder happened, call it what it was, it impacted on my father really, really badly.

“My father had total faith in the justice system but it failed him completely. Now, in later years we found out that the RUC wanted to pursue prosecution of the soldier. It was endorsed by the Crown Counsel and then the ruling was made by the then Attorney General, Sir Basil Kelly that it was not going to happen. He said that at worst it was manslaughter not muder, but in his eyes it was the case that no soldier could do wrong in the line of duty.

“So, basically my father endeavoured to try and get justice as best he could and finally he knew he wasn't going to get it. He came up against a stone wall. That was it – it wasn't going to happen.

“My father took to the drink. He was always fond of a bottle anyway. Now, I don't mean he was on the streets drinking. He was a working drinker. He worked every single day and after work go to the pub. In the end up he would take a bottle to bed with him. Eventually, two years later, the man was dead at 46.

“So, the brick was thrown into the pond, that being Billy's death and the ripples went out and that affected the wider family. People don't know that. Basically it broke my father's heart. Billy was always good humoured and always brought the best of sweets. It was always Mintola or Toblerone or Rolo. He bought us sweets he would have bought for himself, it wasn't stuff for kids, it wasn't just a lollipop.”

As the years passed by and Billy McGreanery took up the baton in attempt to finish the search for justice begun by his father, he has actually retraced the final footsteps of his uncle.

“I have actually stood at the corner where the observation post was and looked down and it's quite eerie. On a personal level you just go 'oh, my God'. It's so strange to put yourself in the same firing position where Billy fell. It's really strange.

“I was 13 when it happened and that's the thing about it. When you reminisce and drag up memories, you actually are taking back to being 13 years of age to recall these things. That's what age you are again.”

Majorie Roddy, niece of Billy McGreaney, told the Derry News: “I was older. I 17 when it happened. I know becuase my brother Billy was listening to my father so much, I know how much it hurt him.

“I think because I know how much it hurt him becuase he was a child and he had to finish what my father started. And, I get that and I've always wanted to be by his side while he did it.”

The accumulation of years of campaigning at times led Billy McGreanery to write down his thoughts about the whole situation and the effect it had on his family. Eventually, he turned those lines into a poem abou the killing of his uncle and subsequent death of his father.

He continued: “Remember my father had already lost his wife, my mother at the age of 30 from leukemia, so it was a big blow. He was left with three children. Then when the murder happened he thought it would be put right in court. But it wasn't, because it was never going to be allowed to happen. Even to this day they are still dragging their heels. It's almost ten years since the HET declared him to be a totally innocent man and still it goes on. They make it out 'oh, that was terrible, things weren't done right', but still they continue to do the same thing.

“They used the terminology now that they haven't got the funds to deal with these cases. They do have the funds but they haven't got the will to deal with it. That's the thing.

“Anyway, when you sit and watch your father basically destroy himself for two years and sit beside your father for two weeks watching him die, it's very, very hurtful. And, you know what the cause was. That's what the poem is about.

“The bullet that killed my father never pierced his skin is one hundred per cent right. It killed him two years later. That's the way I see it. That was my driving force to keep this going and when I got the opportunity I engaged with the HET first of all in 2002 and finally got a favourable decision. Although, in my view they were a flawed organisation because they only went after paramilitaries and not military forces or the police.

“Even so, they did unveil a lot of stuff that we weren't aware of. There's nothing there now in place of the HET and I think that is terrible for the other families. I think it's a disgrace there's nothing in place to deal with the legacy of the past.

“It's actually got to the stage now that the younger generation know something is happening in Northern Ireland, but they are not particularly interested. It's a bit of a shame that recent history is really being diluted to the point where no one has any interest anymore.

“We are not putting ourselves out there to be above any other family or people who have been killed because I'm telling my story because I know my story, but I also know there are other people in the same position with their own personal story equally as harrowing. Their stories are also as equally fustrating in terms of trying to get justice and that needs to be said – that we are not on our own unforunately. If it was an isolated case, I would be delighted. But, it's not.

“Soldier A left the Army without being reprimanded. In fact he was promted. He was a corporal when he did the shooting and he left the army as lance sergeant.

“The thing about it is that it's undisputed law enforcement know exactly who it was who discharged the weapon and did the shooting. It wasn't as if there were four soldiers who fired at once. There was one single shot fired by one man. He has never been interviewed under caution, ever. But, his statement was that he accepts that he made a mistake, albeit an honest one. But, he also said that given the same circumstances, he would do the same thing again.

“To me there's no remorse there at all. That's not a remorseful statement. That's a defensive statement he's making.”

The Derry News asked Billy McGreanery if he feels that the case of his uncle's death has been forgotten?

He said: “I would say it has lain dormant rather than being forgotten. Billy was considered to have been a gunman for nigh on 40 years. And, the day after Billy was shot even with forensics and police investigations that was never retracted. They knew even then that he was an innocent man but nobody said, hold on a minute this was wrong. It was on the record books that he was a gunman.”

Majorie Roddy added: “My granny always said it wasn't only that they shot Billy, it was the fact that they took away his good name that added to the pain.”

Billy McGreanery added: “My granny also said to me, Billy, it'll all come out in the wash. Hopefully, as I say, we've taken and pushed it to where we want it to be. Whether they furnish us with the justice we deserve is entirely in the hands of the state.

“We can't do anything about that. We've taken it up to the door and that door is now open and it's in their hands to deal with in a genuine way or will they continue to fudge the issue or make another excuse?”

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