Catholic priest directed deadly Ulster bomb attack

Claudy, UK - A CATHOLIC priest directed a devastating IRA car-bomb attack in the Northern Ireland village of Claudy in 1972.

It was one of the worst atrocities of the bloodiest year of the Troubles -- and his role was covered up by British police, government ministers and the Catholic hierarchy, an official investigation revealed last night.

Nine people were killed, three of them children, and more than 30 were injured in the attack. No one was ever charged with the killings, and the IRA denied responsibility at the time.

But a long-awaited report by the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland last night confirmed suspicions Father James Chesney, from the nearby village of Bellaghy, was directly involved in the IRA operation.

Father Chesney was transferred to a parish in County Donegal in the Irish republic, outside the Northern Ireland jurisdiction, following secret talks between the then British secretary of state, William Whitelaw, and the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal William Conway.

Mr Whitelaw and Cardinal Conway discussed the scandal after being approached by a senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officer because the police were reportedly reluctant to arrest the priest for fear of inflaming the security situation.

The Claudy attack happened on the same day British troops stormed republican areas in the city of Londonderry.

That occurred just six months after the Bloody Sunday killings of 13 civilians by British troops in Londonderry when Martin McGuinness, now the Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive, was the Irish Republican Army's second-in-command in the city.

An RUC officer's request to arrest the priest was refused by an assistant chief constable of the Special Branch who said "matters are in hand". That officer had written to the British government about what action could be taken to "render harmless a dangerous priest" and asked if the case could be raised with the Catholic hierarchy.

At the Claudy bomb inquest, a coroner described the outrage as "sheer, unadulterated, cold, calculated, fiendish murder".

Later poet James Simmons described the moment of the attack in his work Claudy.

"An explosion too loud for your eardrums to bear, and young children squealing like pigs in the square, and all faces chalk-white and streaked with bright red, and the glass and the dust and the terrible dead."