Justice for Majella as HET exposes army lies

August 17, 2010

By Brónagh Murphy

An interim report by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET)  has found that the British Army deliberately covered up events surrounding the murder of a Whitecross schoolgirl 34 years ago.

The announcement was made public on Thursday after Mr Dave Cox, the director of the HET, visited Majella’s 88-year-old mother at her home in Whitecross to brief the family on his findings.

The family have spoken of their joy that their long campaign to uncover the truth surrounding Majella’s death has finally been accomplished

On August 14th 1974 twelve-year-old Majella O’Hare was walking to confessions in St. Malachy’s Church, Ballymoyer, just yards from her family home, when a British soldier on patrol opened fire, fatally wounding her.  The soldier claimed he was aiming at a gunman hiding in a nearby hedge and that Majella was accidentally killed in an exchange of gunfire, an account which was rubbished by the HET.

The new report found there was no gunman and that the Army fabricated the story in an attempt to cover up the facts.

Majella’s family has spoken of their satisfaction at the report’s findings and have called on the Army to publicly apologise for her murder.

This sentiment has been echoed by Mr Cox who said an apology is “long overdue”.

Majella’s brother Michael, who was with his mother when they received the news, said his family were “very satisfied” that they had been vindicated by the report’s findings, which came just a day before the 34th anniversary of her death.

Calling for an apology, he said: “No official body has ever said sorry.  The army has said nothing.  They concocted a story that was untrue and confusing to say the least.”

The full and official HET report into Majella’s death is expected to be published in three to four weeks.

HET report confirms army cover-up of schoolgirl murder

By Brónagh Murphy

On the day of the killing, Majella’s father, Jim, was cutting grass in the schoolyard close to St. Malachy’s Church in Ballymoyer when he heard a shot ring out.   Rushing to the scene he found his daughter  lying wounded.

In a report taken at the time, Mr O’Hare recounted: “I held her in my arms and the blood was pouring from her left side.”

As he attempted to cradle his daughter, he said a paratrooper swore at him.

Majella was flown to Daisy Hill Hospital in an army helicopter but died in her father’s arms on the way.

“Majella had her hand in her long hair.  I could see her moving her hand, trying to ease herself, she was hurting,” Mr O’Hare said.

“Eventually she took her hand up along my chest and said ‘Daddy, Daddy’ in a very faint voice.  A second later she fell and just died.”


Less than half an hour after Majella was shot, the army press office released a statement saying that a gunman had opened fire on the army patrol and that a 12-year-old girl was hit.  The statement said the army did not return fire.

A second report two hours later said the army did return fire and that Majella was caught in the crossfire.  It was later revealed that there was no exchange of fire and that Majella was hit in the back by two army bullets.

A subsequent RUC investigation recommended that Private Michael Williams, a Royal Marine Commando, be charged with her manslaughter.  Williams stood trial in 1977 but was acquitted.

Although the HET probe supported the original RUC investigation, it found that because military witnesses were only interviewed by the military police, their evidence was not robustly assessed or challenged.

David Cox says the time has now come for the army to apologise.

“Whatever the circumstances, this family is due an apology.  This report is of great importance to the family. It once and for all explains and clarifies that there was no gunman involved in the death of Majella and that there was no crossfire,” he said.


Michael O’Hare says his father, Jim, died a broken man after witnessing the murder of the youngest of his five children, adding that his family’s long campaign for the truth has been fought in his memory.

He paid tribute to his mother for her resilience.

“My Mum is 88.  I’d like to commend her for the courage she has shown and remember my father who was so traumatised by what he saw on the road that he never recovered,” he said.

“He came up to find Majella on the road and the soldiers didn’t know who he was and were very abusive to him.  He was just a broken man.  Majella died in his arms.”

Mr O’Hare thanked the HET team and particularly Mr Cox “for his help and understanding during the whole investigation.”

“It’s a sad time but we are very satisfied by this report.  For a long time we didn’t do anything thinking we’d wake up one morning and it would all be a bad dream.  As time went on you became more aware of what actually happened,” he said.

“The loss of Majella is unbelievable really.  You think what she could have become, given the chance.”


Politicians have echoed calls for an offical apology.

Conor Murphy MP says he hopes the HET’s findings brings “some element of relief” to the O’Hare family.

“The O’Hare family was devastated in 1976 by the actions of the Parachute Regiment and the fact that no one has been held to account has only added to their pain and suffering over the years,” Mr Murphy said.

“These findings from the Historical Enquiries Team support the fact that there was one person firing shots on the day Majella was killed.  In my view this clearly vindicates what the family and people in south Armagh and beyond have been saying for many years – that the British Army murdered Majella O’Hare and that they subsequently covered up the facts of the case.

“I hope that the full HET report is published without delay and I believe that this brings the O’Hare family one step closer to having their calls for an apology answered.”

Speaking after a meeting with the O’Hare family on Thursday, SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said: “Inspector Cox’s findings are based on the use of the latest available technology and the statements of witnesses who were in the area at the time and reinforce the family’s view that the British Government should  acknowledge of the truth of the circumstances of Majella’s death at the highest level.  Majella was killed by a member of the Parachute Regiment.  The version of events which emerged from the soldier who killed Majella and his regiment was a cover up of the truth.

“Now 34 years later, after dignified patient pursuance of the truth, the family have had the first real acknowledgement of the facts about how Majella died.  Mrs O’ Hare, Majella’s mother, has said that she would appreciate  an act of compassion from the British Government at the highest level in the form of an official recognition of the truth of her daughter’s death,” he added.

Mr Bradley said he will be asking Secretary of State Owen Patterson to meet with the family to discuss the report’s findings.