15 Aug 2022

Sammy Devenny: The background of the RUC attack on the Devenny family

On Friday April 18, 1969 notice was given by the North Derry Civil Rights association that they intended to march from Burntollet Bridge to Altnagelvin the following day. The infamous attack on demonstrators at Burntollet had of course happened just over two months before and like that march, this one too was banned. It was anticipated that the march would start at 3.30pm and end at 5.30pm on April 19, but the march organiser telephoned the RUC and told them that it had been cancelled-a fact later confirmed in writing. However, the authorities anticipated that the march might still take place and the RUC and warned officers from various areas to report for duty in case of trouble. Almost 300 RUC men, of varying rank were put on standby-but by the end of April 19, around 500 had been on duty in the city at various stages of the day. They had come from all over Northern Ireland. At 3pm on April 19, a small number of people had gathered at Burntollet Bridge and it appeared that disturbances were unlikely, but at 3.30pm the RUC were advised that a large number of demonstrators were involved in a sit-down protest at Guildhall Square. A report into the events was compiled by Detective Chief Superintendent Kenneth Drury from the Metropolitan Police, later head of the ‘Flying Squad’ who was appointed on request by then Chief Constable of the RUC, Sir Arthur Young to investigate the complaints of the Devenny family. Drury travelled to Northern Ireland on April 6, 1970 with Detective Superintendent Churchill Coleman to begin the investigation. The report stated that as the violence escalated in Derry city centre on April 19, there was an attack on RUC headquarters at Strand Road. The RUC said that they drove rioters along the Strand Road towards the junction of William Street were a series of heavy battles developed between them police. Subsequent police reports recorded that a large number of officers were injured and had to leave the area. The RUC also later claimed that in the chaos, police sections were split up and senior officers found themselves in charge of men they didn’t know, and in some cases had never seen before. Drury also wrote: “On numerous occasions officers who did not know each other were operating together..effective supervision of individual officers became to all intents and purposes null and void, except where a senior officer may have some individual officers with him that he knew personally.” The Metropolitan Police officer also concluded that: “As far as placing individual officers at any particular place at a given time was concerned, this was virtually impossible to accomplish from police records and all these would prove was that an officer was in the city on that day.” As for the attack on Sammy Devenny and his family, Drury recorded that RUC officers entered their home in William Street at some point between 8.30pm and 9.06pm on April 19. At 8pm the entire Devenney family consisting of Mr and Mrs Devenney and eight of their nine children were at home at the time. Mr Harry Curran, then aged 60, also lived at the home. Mrs Phyllis Devenney was ill and was in bed and Sammy moved his car away from the home to Windsor Terrace in case it was damaged in the rioting, but had returned home on foot by 8.30pm. Mr Devenney and his son Harry, stood at the door of their home watching the rioting at the junction of William Street and Rossville Street. People were coming and going from the area as the disturbances continued. Mr Patrick Harkin (45) arrived to go into the Electric Bar in William Street and Mr Frederick Budd (43) arrived to collect his mother from 59 William Street and his son who worked at Bradley’s bar also on William Street. Mr Harkin joined Sammy Devenny outside his house and Mr Budd’s mother, afraid of the rioting would not answer the door at No 59-so he too joined Mr Devenny and Mr Harkin at the front of the Devenney home. By this point, the RUC were coming under heavy attack and senior officers apparently agreed on a pincer movement by sending police down from the top of William Street to relieve pressure on the RUC at the junction with Rossville Street. As a result, six police Land Rovers went from Francis Street into William Street. Sammy Devenny saw the police vehicles coming and he and those with him went into his house. Harry Curran, and Mr Hugh McDaid, boyfriend of Ann Devenny were also there. Mr Devenny tried to shut the door, but a number of youths ran into the house. Some went straight through the yard and others went upstairs. Kenneth Drury traced eight of those who entered the house and one who had tried to. The person who found the door shut was batoned by police at the factory next door. Four of those who ran into the house went upstairs and the other four ran into backyard-one got onto the roof of an outhouse and stayed there.  A 12-year-old boy was amongst those who hid in the yard. The RUC men who entered the Devenny home appeared to make no interest in finding the young men who entered the house. They did not go upstairs and there is no evidence to suggest they searched the yard. The several RUC officers who entered the Devenny home had gotten out of the Land Rovers. They were reported to be wearing helmets and carrying batons but not riot shields. It’s estimated it took around five minutes for them to enter the house. One of the policemen kicked the door whilst others batoned it. Sammy Devenny had tried to jam the door with a shovel, but to no avail. When they accessed the house, the RUC began beating Mr Devenny and Mr Harkin about the head. Sammy Devenny was pushed into the front room and Mr Harkin was kicked and beaten unconscious and left lying in the hall. Fearful for the safety of his children, Mr Devenny asked Hugh McDaid to take some of his children upstairs. Meanwhile, Harry Devenny was pushed into the kitchen where a police officer was about to strike him when an officer wearing a Sam Browne belt and carrying a blackthorn stick stopped him once it was established that Harry lived in the house. Anne and Catherine Devenny, Frederick Budd and some of the younger children, Colette, Daniel and Jim were in the front room. Three RUC men attacked their father by kicking and batoning him with one of them kneeling on the sofa to conduct his assault. All the while, Sammy Devenny is reported to have repeatedly cry out to the police to leave his children alone. Another policeman made his way towards Mr Budd and struck him on the head causing him to fall back onto the three younger children, Colette, Daniel and Jim who were sitting together on the one chair. Catherine Devenney was lying on the sofa recovering from abdominal surgery. She received a baton blow to the thigh and on the right side of her back. Then, the RUC men took hold of her feet and pulled her onto the floor. Her sister Ann told the police that Catherine had just been released from hospital. For her trouble, Catherine was kicked whilst she was curled up in a ball and was rendered unconscious. After being pushed over, Ann crawled over to her father and lay across him in an attempt to protect him. She was kicked in the side and thrown across to the fireplace where Catherine was lying. As another officer was about to kick Catherine again, Ann kicked him and an officer took hold of her leg, held it up and another RUC man struck her across the toes with his baton. Ann again attempted to het back to her father she was grabbed by the hair, lifted away from her father and pushed against the fireplace. Then a RUC man held her father by the shirt and threw him across the room and kicked him on the thigh. As the RUC left the room, Harry Devenny came towards it and was hit by a baton on his left hand side. The officer wielding the blackthorn stick then entered the room and all the police officers left the house. As they withdrew they dragged Patrick Harkin out of the hall by his neck, kicked and batoned him again and threw him into a Land Rover and took him to Victoria RUC station. CAPTION: The funeral cortege of Sammy Devenny leaves his home at William Street to make its way to St Eugene's Cathedral in July, 1969.

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