How bus driver’s death led to Diplock hearings

FORTY years ago yesterday bus driver Sydney Agnew was shot dead by the IRA outside his Albertbridge Road home in The Mount – in front of his children.

The father-of-three from east Belfast was killed by republicans to stop him testifying against the men who hijacked a bus at gunpoint.

According to the book Lost Lives, he was to be the principal witness in a case the next day in which a number of Short Strand men were charged with ordering him off his bus at gunpoint and setting fire to the vehicle.

At Mr Agnew’s inquest, the coroner said the main aim of the shooting was to impede the course of justice.

Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile’s father was later one of several men who were convicted of hijacking and burning the bus at gunpoint.

The killing was cited by Lord Diplock as an important case in the decision to abolish juries in Troubles-related trials.

According to Lost Lives, Mr Agnew’s six-year-old son answered the family’s front door to two 16-year-old youths who asked if his father was a bus driver.

Mr Agnew pushed his son and 10-year-old daughter aside and was shot several times.

No organisation claimed responsibility for the killing.

It is also reported that 25 minutes before his death he had been visited by an RUC inspector asking him to attend Belfast City Commission the following day to give evidence.

In his report, Lord Diplock referred to the Agnew killing.

He wrote: “The fear of revenge is omnipresent. It is not idle or irrational fear.

“It is justified, in fact, by many well-authenticated instances of intimidation – and not least by the example familiar to all other potential witnesses – of a witness who was shot dead in his home in front of his infant child the day before he was due to give evidence on the prosecution of terrorists,” said Lord Diplock.