Nora McCabe was murdered almost 29 years ago on July 9th 1981. She was shot in the back of the head at close range by a plastic bullet fired from an RUC armoured landrover. She died the next day in hospital from her injuries.
It was the same morning Joe McDonnell died on hunger strike.
Nora was aged 33 and the mother of three young children, the youngest three months old. Over the years I have met her husband Jim many times. He is a quiet but very determined man who never gave up on getting the truth. Jim knew what happened, but as in so many other similar incidents, the RUC and the Director of Public Prosecutions office embarked on a cover up of the circumstances in order to protect the RUC personnel responsible for Nora’s murder.
At the inquest in November 1982 several RUC people gave evidence, including James Critchley who was the senior RUC officer in west Belfast at the time. He was in one of the armoured vehicles. The RUC claimed that there were barricades on the Falls Road, that there were rioters and that they fired two plastic bullets when petrol bombs were thrown at them.
In their account there were hijacked and burning vehicles on the road and beer barrels and debris strewn around.
Pat Finucane, whose murder was covered up in much the same manner as Nora’s, was representing the McCabe family. At the inquest he was given a video filmed by a Canadian TV film crew who were on the Falls Road that morning. When he tried to introduce it as evidence the inquest was adjourned. It did not reconvene until one year later.
The video was then played to the inquest and it entirely disproved the evidence given by the RUC witnesses. There were no rioters, no barricades, no burning vehicles. Crucially it did show the RUC landrover turn toward Linden Street where Nora McCabe was walking and a plastic bullet being fired.
The inquest jury found that Nora was an innocent victim. But the DPP decided not to prosecute the RUC officers involved. The RUC sergeant who fired the deadly bullet and the senior officer who ordered him to fire are now both dead.
Last year Jim initiated a judicial review into the decision not to prosecute anyone. He wanted that decision quashed.
Last week the court accepted that there were significant factual conflicts between the evidence of the RUC witnesses and the film evidence.
The judge said that consideration ought to have been given to charging the RUC witnesses with perjury. But he accepted that the DPP had the legal right to take the decision.
Speaking afterwards Jim said he felt vindicated in taking the case. The court had accepted Nora’s innocence and the authenticity of the tape. The lies of the RUC witnesses had been exposed.
Jim also spoke of the difficulties he and his children had encountered. And he acknowledged that many other families had suffered similar experiences.
Between 1970 when they were first introduced, almost 100,000 rubber and plastic bullets were fired up to 1981. In that year alone 30,000 were fired. 17 people, 8 of them children, were killed and thousands of people were injured. Some of them, like Emma Groves who was blinded, were permanently disabled.
Plastic bullets are lethal weapons. They should be banned.
Jim McCabe is one of our unsung heroes. He reared his young family while pursuing truth and justice for his wife Nora. I am sure there were times when grief, anger and frustration must have threatened to overwhelm him. But he never gave up. He persisted. And this week he prevailed.