Former Long Kesh inmates to sue over CR gas effects

Scott Millar
Sunday Times
20 Feb 2005

FORMER republican and loyalist prisoners plan legal
action against the British government for using a
toxic gas to quell a 1974 riot in Long Kesh.

They claim the CR gas has resulted in a high incidence
of cancers and lung problems among former internees.
It is thought that more than 50 prisoners affected by
the chemical spray have died or become ill.

After years of denial by the British authorities, it
emerged earlier this year in documents released under
the new Freedom of Information Act that CR gas was
authorised for use in Northern Ireland in 1973.

Jim McCann, an internee in Long Kesh, has been
compiling a list of the prisoners there when the gas
was released. “It is clear that a lot of men were
badly affected by what happened to them that day,” he
said.The effect of the gas, which was dropped in
canisters from helicopters and then divided into
thousands of little droplets, was immediate and
debilitating. To think that it is now costing men’s
lives is horrifying.

“We have fought for years to prove that the British
used us as guinea pigs for a gas that even the
American armed forces would not buy. Blood samples
were taken from prisoners affected by the gas.”

Research into the effects of the gas is being carried
out by Coiste na n-Iarchimi, a republican
ex-prisoners’ association, by Madden and Finucane
solicitors and by Sinn Fein. All the cases are being
compiled for a possible action under international
human rights law.

CR or dibenzoxazepine is a skin irritant 10 times more
powerful than other tear gases. The effects of CR are
similar to those of CS, the more common riot-control
gas, except that CR also induces intense pain on any
exposed skin. The affected areas remain sensitive for
days and become painful again after contact with
water. An American government estimation of the
effects of the gas, which was produced in Britain, is
that it cannot be safely used because “not enough is
known about the carcinogenic or mutagenic effects it
might have”.

Many of the men in Long Kesh, near Lisburn, were
internees not charged with specific crimes. Among the
internees and sentenced criminals were members of both
the official and provisional wings of the IRA, and
loyalists, including Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein
leader, Richard McAuley, the Sinn Fein press officer,
and Gusty Spence, the leader of the Ulster Volunteer

The riot at the prison involved nearly 800 republican
inmates in a dispute with the Northern Ireland Prison
Service over visits, food and compassionate parole.
Prisoners were largely allowed to run their own
affairs at the time, even holding rival Easter
parades. They had already made respirators to combat
the CS gas they thought the British Army would use.

Republicans burnt 21 of the compounds used to house
internees and took over the entire prison complex,
destroying watch towers and prison buildings. Some
leaders, including Adams, refused to burn their cells.
The next morning the British Army set about
recapturing the prison. A helicopter fired gas
canisters, which are now believed to have contained
the CR gas. Prisoners were incapacitated and easily
overpowered by the guards.

McCann said: “The canister exploded above us and the
air was filled with fumes. It felt as if your lungs
were filling with water. It was overpowering.”

The cost of the burning of Long Kesh was estimated at
£1.5m (€2.2m). About 130 prisoners and nine warders
were injured.

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