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Priest recalls death of British soldiers

(Catherine Morrison, Irish News)

A key player in the peace process has spoken of the day he administered the last Rites to two British soldiers killed after a republican funeral.

Redemptorist priest Father Alec Reid revealed that on the day, he had been passing secret correspondence between Sinn Féin and John Hume as part of early peace talks.

The documents were stained in the blood of the two dead soldiers by the time he delivered them to the then leader of the SDLP John Hume.

Corporals David Howes and Derek Wood were murdered in one of the most brutal scenes to be broadcast on television.

They were dragged from their car, stripped and beaten, before being shot by a republican mob after the funeral in 1988 of one of the victims of loyalist Milltown Cemetery killer Michael Stone.

"I knew the atmosphere was bad," Father Reid said.

"I decided that I would go stand outside at the gate and when they brought [(the soldiers] out I was going to challenge them, and when they tried to take them away I was going to insist I would go with them."

But the priest ended up giving them the Last Rites.

Father Reid said he believed Gerry Adams could have saved the soldiers from death, if the Sinn Féin president had been reached in time.

But Mr Adams said: "Whether or not I could have had an effect on the situation, I do not know."

Father Reid later delivered the envelope containing the secret correspondence to John Hume.

"I still had the documents and there was blood on them," Father Reid said.

"I brought them down to John Hume afterwards and gave them to him and told him what had happened.

"I just said to myself this is not the way we are supposed to be doing business."

August 1, 2005

This article appeared first in the July 30, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News