OTR reaction: UDR man says best mate was killed in Downey-linked case

Former UDR soldier Bertie Kerr
Former UDR soldier Bertie Kerr

A former soldier yesterday slammed the decision to issue an ‘amnesty’ letter to John Downey, who has also been linked to two UDR deaths.

Downey, the Hyde Park bomb suspect who walked free from court this week, had previously been wanted for questioning over a car bomb attack which claimed the lives of two of the regiment’s members in 1972 (see below).

Yesterday a close friend of one of the dead UDR men joined in the chorus of dismay over the letter, which appears to have effectively guaranteed that he will not be prosecuted.

Bertie Kerr, a former UDR soldier and now-retired UUP councillor, said he could very well have died alongside his regimental comrades Alfred Johnston and Jimmy Eames.

The pair were blown up by an IRA car bomb as they approached to inspect it.

Mr Kerr had been on a training course that day, and was not on patrol.

He described Private Eames as his “best mate”, and remembered warning them to be careful before going out.

“I was going to bed at 12 o’clock,” said the 75-year-old Fermanagh man, who was about two miles away at the time the explosion rang out.

He said: “I just jumped into our car and down the road to see what was on. I knew the lads were out there. I thought: ‘that could be my patrol’.”

What he saw at the scene made him vomit.

“There was all sorts of chaos there,” he said.

“It was absolutely gross. I never seen anything like it in my life, and I never want to see it again. They were caught right in the blast.”

He believes a British Army truck – the real target – had been coming down the hill just as the UDR patrol was investigating the booby-trapped Austin 1100.

In the wake of the attack, he looked after Private Eames’s wife and children.

Mr Kerr himself had joined the regiment in 1972, and stood down in 1977.

As for John Downey, who was just one of 180-plus on the runs issued with a ‘letter of comfort’ by the NIO, he said: “I’ll tell you, he deserves to be investigated.”

Referring to the IRA, he added it often seems the case that “everybody else has to get investigated other than them.”

He was particularly angered by the fact that the idea of an official amnesty for on the runs had previously been withdrawn in Parliament after overwhelming opposition.

He said: “The Government tried to bring this legislation through Westminster and it failed. Then they go and do a dirty deal behind the backs of people. Parliament is supreme in making laws and passing legislation, and if that didn’t get through Parliament there shouldn’t have been any dirty deal.”

Downey has also been linked to other Troubles incidents.

The court document released on Tuesday, in the wake of the collapse of the Hyde Park bomb case against him, notes that in 2004 the PSNI had approved his arrest “in respect of a number of Northern Irish incidents”, of which the Enniskillen attack was one.

At that time he had never been interviewed in relation to that incident.

The matters were described as “serious terrorist offences”.

Sinn Fein was asked if Downey or the party wished to respond to these claims yesterday, but no reaction was forthcoming.

The PSNI said that because a Police Ombudsman’s investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment.