As the News Letter prepared to mark the 25th anniversary of the two army corporals’ murders in 2013, a previously untold story of the Troubles emerged.
Derek Howes and David Wood inadvertently strayed into the path of the IRA funeral cortege of Milltown victim Kevin Brady in west Belfast on March 19, 1988.
Speaking for the first time about the harrowing events of March 1988, a former RUC constable revealed how he and a number of his colleagues disobeyed direct orders in a frantic effort to rescue the two men after hearing the disturbing radio transmissions from an Army helicopter.
Unaware of who was being abducted by the angry mob, and fearful of an escalation, police commanders directed that the mobile support unit officers on stand-by in Woodbourne Station remain at the base.
The former officer told how they were ordered not to intervene.
“When we tried to crew up we were told: ‘You’re going nowhere,’” he said.
The handful of rebellious officers from the west Belfast MSU – known as the Blues – put the preservation of life ahead of RUC discipline and, as tempers flared between a senior officer at Woodbourne and the MSU personnel, the officers left the base in two Land Rovers and raced along the Andersonstown Road towards Casement Park.
Listening to the Army helicopter crew’s transmissions along the way, the officers intercepted a black taxi making off from the scene and arrested two men. The pair detained – Alex Murphy and Harry Maguire – were the only two people to be convicted of murder in relation to the deaths of Corporal’s David Howes and Derek Wood.
Despite the satisfaction of making the crucial arrests, the former officer said he still felt some guilt that they delayed too long to save the lives of the soldiers. No one faced police disciplinary proceedings over the incident.
“If we had gone when we wanted to go at first ...we would have been there in minutes. We probably wasted about eight or nine minutes in all waiting on permission,” he said.
Dramatic images of the Blues officers arresting Murphy and Maguire on the Andersonstown Road were captured by a photographer from the Today newspaper and appeared in the national press the following day.