Relatives for Justice

Daniel Barrett 15 years, Havana Court, Ardoyne, north Belfast, shot dead sitting on the garden wall of his home on 9 July 1981, by members of the British army's Welsh Guards.

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Daniel was the second oldest of a family with four children. He was attending St Gabriel’s Intermediate School on the Crumlin Road at the time of his death. Daniel’s parents described their son as a normal boisterous 15-year-old teenager, who liked the girls and had plenty of friends. They said his favourite pastimes were playing pool, going to discos, and playing his records.

On the Thursday evening, 9 July, Danny had played pool with friends until 7pm. He then returned home and watched 'Top of the Pops' on television until 8pm. When the programme was over he went to a local a disco along with some of his friends. The disco was empty so the youths left and returned to the Barrett home. As they made their way back to Havana Court there was some minor stone throwing taking place in the Ardoyne area and a couple of shots were heard. Danny's father speaking about the events of that evening to Relatives for Justice said although there was some stone throwing at the bottom of Brompton Park all was quiet in Havana Court.

The street violence in Ardoyne area on 9 July had been taking place sporadically since the previous day when Joe McDonnell, one of the H-Block hunger strikers in Long Kesh, died in the prison hospital. He was fifth of the ten men who were to die in Long Kesh in 1981, protesting against the withdrawal of political status and the brutality of the prison regime.

Havana Court, where the Barrett’s lived, was in 1981 a small square of recently built red brick terrace houses with small gardens surrounded by two-foot high brick walls. The back yard walls of the houses in Havana Court ran parallel with the back walls of a similar row of newly built houses in Flax Street, which faced directly up Brompton Park. The main road access into to Havana Court was via Flax Street. The old Ewart’s Mill in Flax Street, which had been used continuously as a barrack for British soldiers for over ten years, dominated the area. On top of the mill were several military observation posts manned by soldiers and equipped with sophisticated cameras. One such observation post was situated on a part of the mill directly overlooking Havana Court, giving the soldiers inside the post a clear view of the entire length of the small street and the section of Flax Street that backed on to it.

After he returned to his home from the disco Danny and his friends sat about the front garden talking. It was a bright clear summer’s evening, and as they sat and chatted they could heard the sound trouble at Brompton Park, were minor rioting was still continuing and plastic bullets being fired by British Crown forces. At one point came the sound of several gunshots and the youths ran from the garden into the Barrett home. They remained indoors for some time until things had quietened down before they came out again. When they re-emerged from the house Danny sat on the garden wall just outside the front door, one of his friends next to him. The two friends faced the main access road leading from Flax Street and Ewart’s Mill beyond, with one of the military posts on its roof clearly visible. Mr Barrett stood in the doorway along with another of Danny’s friends, while yet another friend stood near the garden gate. Suddenly there was a further burst of gunfire and one of Danny’s friends shouted to him to get down. Danny shouted back ‘Ach it’s alright.’ Moments later a single shot rang out and Danny fell backwards over the wall into a neighbour’s garden.

Mr Barrett at first thought Danny had deliberately thrown himself back off the wall to find cover, but when he looked over the wall he saw his son was losing a lot of blood. Mr Barrett knew then that his son had been shot. He immediately leapt over the garden wall but discovered his son was unconscious and ‘appeared to be dead.’ He whispered an act of contrition into his son’s ear and held him in his arms. He tried to help him his son, pulling of his shirt and using it to stem the flow of blood as they waited for an ambulance.
When the ambulance arrived Danny was quickly placed in the vehicle and it sped off towards the Mater Hospital on the Crumlin Road, not more than a mile from the Barrett home. To reach the Crumlin Road the ambulance had to pass along Flax Street where British soldiers, operating a permanent checkpoint outside Ewart’s Mill stopped it. The soldiers demanded the names and details of all those inside the ambulance before allowing it to proceed. The vehicle travelled a short distance along Flax Street when it was stopped again by British soldiers demanding the same details. Despite the protests of the ambulance crew the vehicle was held up for several more minutes. The soldiers then informed the ambulance crew that they would escort the ambulance to the hospital. However, the ambulance had only turned on to the Crumlin Road from Flax Street when an Royal Ulster Constabulary mobile patrol stopped it. The British army escort made no attempt to explain the situation and drove off. The RUC members entered the ambulance and demanded all the same details the British soldiers had already obtained. When they had finished questioning the people in the ambulance the RUC patrol escorted it to the hospital.

The Mater Hospital was contacted and informed of the situation and had a medical team waiting the arrival of the ambulance at its front gates. Danny was pronounced dead in the back of the ambulance. The RUC patrol asked the neighbour accompanying the dead youth to identify his body, which he did, and Danny Barrett was taken to the morgue.

Shortly after the shooting a large force of RUC and British soldiers arrived at the Barrett home and carried out an extensive searched of the house. The home of one of Danny's friends was also searched. The following morning forensic experts examined the scene of the shooting. The forensic experts told Mr Barrett the shot that killed his son came from the direction of the British army observation post on top of Ewart's Mill.

An inquest into the killing of Danny Barrett took place in August 1992. The British soldiers involved in the shooting attended the hearing, but their names were not disclosed or made known to the Barrett family and were identified as soldier's ‘A’ and ‘B’. A member of the RUC read out their statements for them. Soldier ‘A’, who was responsible for shooting Danny, said that shots had been fired from Havana Court and through the sights of his rifle he saw a person whom he had believed to be a gunman. He said he fired a single shot and saw a man fall. Soldier 'B' in his statement supported soldier 'A'.

An RUC member in an armoured vehicle in Brompton Park said he saw puffs of smoke which he believed were gunfire coming from a spot 70 yards from the Barrett house. Both the RUC and the Ministry of Defence accepted the dead boy was not the gunman. The solicitor representing the Barrett family described the boy's death as ‘summary execution.’

The jury returned an open verdict, adding a rider making it clear that ‘Danny Barrett was not the gunman nor was he involved in the riotous situation which prevailed at the time.’

During the inquest Mr Barrett, unable to control his anger and rage at seeing one of the men involved in killing his son, leapt on top of soldier 'B' as he passed him in the courtroom. Moment’s later soldier ‘B’ had to be assisted from the courtroom.

Some time later the Northern Ireland Department of Public Prosecutions said that following an RUC investigation into the shooting it had decided not to prosecute any of the British soldiers involved.

No British soldiers were ever charged in connection with the killing of Danny Barrett.

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