Paul Whitters: Information on death of schoolboy shot by plastic bullet released from archives

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The Government has released material from the National Archives related to the death of a schoolboy killed by a plastic bullet in Northern Ireland.

Paul Whitters, 15, sustained a fatal head injury when he was hit by the police baton round amid rioting in Londonderry in 1981.

The disturbances in Londonderry took place amid unrest associated with the republican hunger strikes at the Maze paramilitary prison in Co Down.

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Paul died in hospital 10 days after being struck on the head by a plastic bullet fired by an RUC officer.

Paul WhittersPaul Whitters
Paul Whitters

An investigation report from the Police Ombudsman in 2007 determined that the use of the baton gun was “wrong and unjustifiable”, noting that the RUC made no attempt to arrest the teenager prior to firing.

However, Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan found no evidence that the officer involved had intended to kill the teenager.

Relatives of the schoolboy have been campaigning for the release of further information about the incident since learning that a file at the National Archives at Kew had been closed until 2059 for national security reasons.

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Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said the Government move to release more information from the archives was in line with its commitment to helping families learn more about what happened to loved ones during the conflict.

“My deepest sympathies are with the family of Paul Whitters,” said Mr Lewis.

“This was a tragic incident where a young person lost his life needlessly.

“In light of concerns raised by the family and the Government’s commitment to helping families uncover more information about what happened to their loved ones during the Troubles, we have released more information on this case via the National Archives.

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“We are committed to a new approach to legacy based on information recovery in the interests of wider reconciliation with Northern Ireland’s past.”

The Government’s contentious new approach to dealing with the legacy of the conflict is focused on retrieving information for bereaved families, rather than pursuing criminal prosecutions.

The decision to offer immunity from prosecution to individuals involved in Troubles killings if they co-operate with the truth recovery process has been met with widespread opposition from bereaved relatives, all the main political parties at Stormont and the Irish government.