The Nolan Show
BBC Radio Ulster
Stephen Nolan talks to Miami Showband member, Des (McAlea) Lee, about the victory in the High Court when it ordered access to the intelligence documents that contain vital information about the murders of band members Fran O’Toole, Brian McCoy and Tony Geraghty.
Stephen: Top security chiefs have been ordered to disclose intelligence files relating to the Miami Showband massacre. It’s understood the documents will contain information on the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) Commander, Robin ‘The Jackal’ Jackson. It’s believed he was involved in the Miami Showband attack and dozens of other murders of Catholics but was never convicted of any of the crimes. The last two survivors of the Miami Showband murders were in court for the ruling recently. I’ve been speaking to one of the survivors, Des Lee, and I’ve asked him for his reaction to the order to disclose intelligence files.
I think it’s fantastic, Stephen. We’ve been fighting now for forty-two years It’s a long, long time to get justice. And I must be very honest – I cried tears of joy in court. It’s the first time in forty-two years that I saw serious progress. You know, the High Court has directed that more than eighty categories of documents are to be made available. Now that is absolutely fantastic. There’s obviously other documents which our legal team require which they, the defendants, have been given ten weeks to come up with those files which will run into November. The defendants could still try to retain some files but we’re hoping that – the judge has given a clear indication to them that he definitely wants them released. And we’re hoping and praying that that does happen, Stephen.
Stephen: How important is this to you, Des?
Des: Extremely important, Stephen. You know, I’ve been fighting for forty-two years to get justice for Fran, Brian and Tony. You know, what they went through was not– it wasn’t murder – it was a massacre that they went through. And I’ve been fighting and I will fight ’til the day I die. There are several things that I want to happen: I want the court case to to finalised and we get justice which, hopefully, will be in 2018. I also want to see a monument erected in Northern Ireland to Fran, Brian and Tony which we’re working very, very hard on at the moment and it does look like that is going to happen. And of course I am working on my book at the moment which is called: My Saxophone Saved My Life which is a true story. So there’s a lot of things actually going on. Meantime, there’s also a major entertainment company making a documentary on The Miami which is to be released worldwide.
Stephen: Tell me about, more about, that night back in 1975 to remind people why this is so important to you.
Des: We were playing in the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge.
It was a normal dance with people from all colour, all creeds – which was what The Miami was all about. You know The Miami was a band that traveled North and South of Ireland entertaining people right across the board to give them two hours of fun during that horrible period in Northern Ireland. Now we’d done the dance in Banbridge and as normal at the end of the night we’d come down and we’d have a chat with the girls, we’d sign autographs and that sort of thing, talk to the guys as well and see that enjoyed the dance then we would proceed to have some tea and sandwiches before we hit the road. Now our Road Manger, Brian Maguire, had agreed that he would go ahead of us – he had packed all the musical equipment – and two girls had asked us for a lift and we suggested that Brian take them. Thank God he did! And Brian took the girls down to, they wanted to go to Newry. Now we had had our tea and our sandwiches, we got in the van and we headed down towards Newry and we came upon what we thought was a normal roadblock at Bessbrook, sorry, not Bessbrook – at Buskhill – and we thought it was a normal roadblock and we were flagged down. And we were asked to get out of the van and face the ditch, which we did. And then the normal questions would have been asked which was things like: date of birth, where you’re from, where you were coming from, where you’re going to – all that type of normal stuff.
And basically we didn’t see anything untoward or feel there was anything untoward until two of the gang went to the van to actually put a ten pound bomb into the van which exploded prematurely and that blew me into the ditch where I lay face down in the grass and I remember watching Viet Nam war movies where the GIs would lie face down and hold your breath for as long as possible and all I could hear all around me was screaming, crying, shouting. There was gunfire, there was – the ditch was on fire because the van had exploded and set the ditch on fire and the ditch was coming closer and closer to my body and I realised that if I didn’t get up at some period I would have been burnt alive. So I called out the names of Fran, Brian and Tony. And I got no answer. I called out: Stephen! And Stephen was moaning. And I said to Stephen that I’m going to Newry to get us help. And I basically realised if I don’t go now I’m gonna be burnt so I made a run for it. And I ran up the ditch up onto the main road – there was a lorry with a trailer and there was two gentlemen in the front, in the front section, in the cab section, of the lorry. I asked them would they take me into Newry and they refused. And I said: Well look, I’ll get on the trailer on the back and they still wouldn’t let me. A young couple came along in their car and they agreed to take me into Newry Police Station and of course at that stage I didn’t trust anybody so I had my hand on the handle of the door and in case they weren’t going in towards Newry I was ready to jump out of the car. But thank God they actually did take me into Newry where I was able to raise the alarm.
Stephen: Time will tell now whether these documents will be the game-changer, Des.
Des: The intelligence files are very, very important, Stephen, especially the one on ‘The Jackal’ Jackson. As you know he was a notorious UVF Commander and a suspected RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) Special Branch agent linked to scores of murders. Now it is also claimed that his fingerprints were found on a gun that was used to kill Fran O’Toole so you know obviously a lot of this, these files, are very, very important in our case.
Stephen: And you’re still hopeful after all these years of getting justice?
Des: Oh! Of course! You know, the fact of the matter is, Stephen, we got convictions – we got two convictions. We got the fact that it was collusion. So you know – it was an arrangement between the RUC at the time, the British Army and the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment). They had conspired to murder The Miami Showband and it was done down to the finest detail: where they got the military hardware, where they got the uniforms, it was – when you actually see our documents that were given to us by the HET (Historical Enquiries Team) and when you look through those documents it is just mind-blowing what is in those documents as to exactly what they done. And for what they done to Fran, Brian and Tony, to me, my wife, my children the families and their friends, you know – we want justice. But what I – one of the things I feel very, very sorry about today, Stephen, is the fact that there are so many families out there today who will never see justice – which is terrible! You know you take the Dublin-Monaghan, Omagh bombings and several other cases that will never see the light of day. We are just blessed that before the HET collapsed that we got the convictions and we got the collusion – so I’m very happy about that.
Stephen: Okay. Des, thank you very much indeed. Thank you for that. (ends)