A MONTH short of the 19th anniversary of one of the Trouble’s most heinous and infamous atrocities, the Sentinel today outlines how the mass murder at Greysteel in 1993 was meticulously planned in the heart of Londonderry’s Waterside.
The revulsion felt after the murders of eight people and the wounding of 13 others on the night before Halloween two decades ago reverberated around the world. Part of an increasingly sickening upturn in tit-for-tat sectarian killings at the time, the shootings at the Rising Sun Bar were mooted by loyalists as ‘revenge’ for an IRA attack on the Shankhill Road in Belfast days before. The cycle of slaughter in the era prompted genuinely held fears that Northern Ireland was lurching towards an all-out civil war. Instead the killings proved to be the final catalyst for politicians on all sides to re-double their efforts to begin on the road to the peace process- a fact tragically reflected on a memorial outside the scene of the shootings which states: ‘May their sacrifice be our path to peace.’
Details outlined in the court documents which decided the length of time that the leading Ulster Freedom Fighter (UFF) gunman in the attack, Stephen Irwin, would serve in jail reveal the attack was painstakingly planned.
In a series of RUC interviews with those convicted of the murders- Stephen Irwin, Geoffrey Deeney and Torrens Knight, it was stated that the killers were first briefed on the plans for the massacre at house in Bond’s Place in the city on Wednesday, October 27, 1993. According to the court documents the plans were revealed to the gang by the then ‘Brigadier’ of the UFF in North Antrim and Londonderry, often referred to in the press as ‘The Mexican’.
On the morning of the attack, the planners of the killings and those who were to carry it out met at a house owned by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) near Macosquin in which the Mexican had an office. Another man with the initials RS, whose name is given in the documents, and who according to claims made during the police interviews, was the North West commander of the UFF explained that he had purchased a getaway car and parked it in Ballykelly where the weapons were hidden in a shed on a relative’s property.
RS, having explained to another man convicted in relation to the killings, Brian McNeill, that he would show him the route to and from the bar, he and Torrens Knight left for Ballykelly and ordered Irwin, Deeney and McNeill to follow 30 minutes later. On arrival at Ballykelly the gang examined the weapons- an AK47, a Browning 9mm pistol and a sawn off shotgun which were also test fired at Ballykelly forest. Irwin discharged five rounds from the AK47 and Deeney two rounds from the handgun. Whilst this happened, McNeill and Knight left to go over the escape route again and by this point RS had been dropped off in Limavady.
Some 30 minutes later, McNeill and Knight collected Irwin and Deeney from the forest after the weapons had been hidden. McNeill then drove to the Rising Sun Bar. Irwin and Deeney went into the pub and placed an order. This was in order to familiarise themselves with the layout of the bar and to decide on the best positions to shoot from. McNeill then drove them all to the various locations where he was to wait whilst the shootings were to take place, where Knight was to set the getaway car on fire and where Irwin and Deeney were supposed to spend the night after the attack. At the final location, McNeill and Knight dropped off Irwin and Deeney so they could build a place to sleep for the night.
About 4.45pm, McNeill and Knight went to buy boiler suits and gloves, bin bags and insulating tape for the attack then again picked up Irwin and Deeney. After going over the getaway route again they returned to the city. At Bond’s place, Knight got Irwin and Deeney to draw up a map of the bar whilst he and McNeill went to get petrol to burn the Opel Kadett getaway car. Knight then quizzed Irwin and Deeney on the map for an hour. Even more chillingly, Knight then turned the office at Bond’s place as a mock up of the bar and positioned Irwin and Deeney at the door and showed them how to enter the pub and made them rehearse the shooting. It was agreed that Irwin would enter the Rising Sun and empty the magazine from the AK-47 until it was empty. Whilst Irwin reloaded, Deeney would fire from the 9mm pistol and when Irwin was ready he would fire until the second machine gun magazine was empty. Deeney would then fire four or five shots to cover their exit from the bar, whilst Knight remained at the front door with the shotgun ‘covering’ that area.
As well as driving the ‘clean car’ to the pick up point after the shooting, it was agreed that McNeill would drive as a ‘scout’ car in front of the Opel Kadett carrying the gunmen to the scene of the shooting. He was to use a pre-arranged signal of tapping his brake lights three times to warn the car behind of any police check-points ahead.
Following the ‘briefing’, McNeill and Knight left to over the route another time and then returned to Bond’s Place. They left there at 9.15pm in McNeill’s vehicle. Knight was then dropped off to collect the Opel Kadett and then McNeill took Irwin and Deeney to Ballykelly forest to collect the weapons and then they were collected by Knight in the Opel Kadett before heading towards the Rising Sun Bar.
When the attack ceased, Irwin and Deeney and Knight left in the Opel Kadett and sped towards Eglinton to a pre-arranged spot where they met with McNeill in the ‘clean car’. There, Irwin and Deeney changed their clothes, placing the other clothes and balaclavas worn during the attack along with Knight’s mask and the three guns in a hold-all. Irwin, Deeney and McNeill then took off in the ‘clean’ car leaving Knight to travel alone in the Kadett towards Eglinton where he attempted to burn the car before running a short way to meet up with McNeill, Irwin and Deeney in the ‘clean’ vehicle that followed him into Eglinton.
McNeill’s next task was to drop off Irwin and Deeney near a hide which had been prepared in the planning of the attack. McNeill however took a wrong turning and dropped Irwin and Deeney off at the wrong place near Eglinton. Despite this, Irwin and Deeney got out of the vehicle and took the hold-all containing the clothes and weapons with them. McNeill then drove Knight to a bar in Londonderry’s Waterside where he met with a man who agreed to give him an alibi. Back in the area close to Eglinton, Irwin and Deeney walked through the fields in an attempt to find the place where it had been arranged to hide the clothes and guns.. Unable to find the hide they eventually hid the hold-all somewhere between Greysteel and Eglinton and then got a taxi to take them to the city. Then they went to the house at Bonds Place owned by the now defunct Ulster Democratic Party in which they both rented rooms. Both Irwin and Deeney then changed clothes and had baths whilst in Greysteel the unimaginable horror of what happened began to be fully relayed to the rest of the world.