BRIAN McDERMOTT, BELFAST, 1973
In 1973 a ten-year old boy left his home and headed to a nearby park and was never seen alive again. Despite numerous beliefs and rumours as to his demise, his killer has never been found. The Irish ‘troubles’ seemed to eclipse the murder of little Brian McDermott and the case deserves as much attention as any other. The police have revisited it a number of times, but never seem to get any further than the fateful day he disappeared 46 years ago.
BRIAN DOUGLAS McDERMOTT
Brian – described as a ‘quiet boy’ – was the youngest of five children (three boys and two girls) born in Rugby, Warwickshire to Edward, who was Irish, and Joan McDermott, who was Scottish. Edward was serving in the RAF at the time. When the family moved to Northern Ireland, they lived in Well Street, East Belfast. Edward was by that point a lorry driver, whilst Brian’s older brother was serving in the army in Northern Ireland.
Brian was due to start at a new school – Euston Street Secondary School – on the Tuesday, and was looking forward to going.
On Sunday 2nd September 1973 ten-year old Brian left his home around 1pm and headed to nearby Ormeau Park to play with friends. He was due home for his Sunday lunch at 2.30pm. His parents knew of no reason why Brian would leave of his own accord, so when he failed to return home they realised something was wrong and Edward immediately contacted police. So began a huge hunt for their youngest son.
The last confirmed sighting of Brian was of him playing in the park. Whilst his frantic parents were told to remain home in case Brian returned, the RUC spent days scouring the local area, looking in derelict buildings, along a stretch of the River Lagan, as well as searching the Sydenham and Drumbo areas following reports of sightings matching that of Brian, and also Tellymore Forest Park, where Brian liked to play. Police were also alerted to search a community relations camp at Helen’s Bay, which was used by the Boys’ Brigade, a Christian youth organisation. Although Brian belonged to 58th Junior BB Company which was attached to the Albertbridge Road Congregationalist Church, he had never been to Helen’s Bay. It goes without saying that the Boys Brigade has had it’s own issues involving abuse and needs further investigation.
As days went on, more RUC and military police were drafted in to assist with the search and the search area was widened, with the headquarters at Willowfield Police Station. Police pleaded for anyone with any information to come forward, and promised to follow up any reported sightings.
Brian had seemingly just disappeared.
Brian’s description was given as follows:
- 4ft 3″ tall;
- Fair hair;
- Blue eyes;
and he was wearing the following:
- White T-shirt with Nettlefield Primary School badge on the chest;
- Cream jeans;
- Black shoes; and
- Green parka coat.
‘THE MOST HORRIFIC MURDER ULSTER HAS EVER KNOWN’
On Saturday 8th September 1973, six days after Brian disappeared, police made a dreadful discovery in the River Lagan when the partial remains of Brian’s dismembered and burned body were discovered inside a hessian sack by Annadale Embankment. Strangely, (just as in the case of Vishal Mehrotra in 1981) both Brian’s legs were missing, as was one arm. His torso was so badly burned that the police were forced to use fingerprints of the remaining hand to confirm identification, comparing prints with those they obtained from Brian’s school exercise books.
His mother was beside herself with grief – not least because she knew that out of everything, Brian was petrified of the water. It seemed to reinforce the cruelty of the end to his life.
Police kept an open mind as to the motive behind Brian’s murder, but there was nothing to suggest a sectarian or terrorist motive. However, police refused to rule out the possibility of a witchcraft element to the case. The RUC found this particular case so ‘ghastly and fiendish’ that they appealed to all sides of the community for help.
The UDA, which were normally resistant to cooperate with security forces during investigations, not only offered a £500 reward to anyone that could provide information that led to a conviction, but assured police of their cooperation and assistance with any element of the investigation.
Parents in the local community requested an increased police presence, fearing a psychopathic killer was on the loose, and children were told to head straight home after school.
Police drained the river above it’s tidal weir in the hope of finding the missing limbs, and despite the biggest ever manhunt ever undertaken in Northern Ireland, Brian’s killer was never caught.
On Thursday 13th September 1973, with thousands of people lining the streets of East Belfast in respect, Brian was laid to rest.
THE KINCORA INQUIRY
In 1982, Sir George Terry, the Chief Constable of Sussex Police was tasked with overseeing the RUC’s investigation into the systematic abuse and trafficking of children at Kincora. Detectives announced that they were reopening the case of Brian McDermott, although there was no direct link.
However, in 2013, newly released files show that a possible link between Brian’s murder and the Kincora scandal was discussed between Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Jim Prior, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham (Quintin Hogg), and Attorney General, Sir Michael Havers.
The Irish News reported the following:
The mounting crisis was discussed at a high-level meeting involving Mr Prior, the lord chancellor Lord hail-sham, and the British attorney-general Sir Michael Havers at the Lord Chancellor’s office in London on February 16 1982. Havers revealed that he had spoken to the NI Director of Public Prosecutions who revealed that the RUC were actively investigating three aspects of the Kincora affair.
According to the minutes: “The first concerned a man called Campbell whom the attorney-general understood to have been secretary of the DUP and who, in 1972, had been falsely acquitted on the basis of perjured evidence.”
The file on his case had been destroyed by a bomb while the RUC were investigating allegations that a DHSS file on Kincora had been “mutilated” in 1977.
Finally, the attorney-general told his colleagues, “the RUC were looking again at the murder of Brian McDermott in the mid-1970s [whose] death was thought at the time to have been sectarian but it was now believed possible that there were homosexual aspects and that Campbell and others might have information to offer.”
Sir Michael Havers
For those that either follow this blog, have read Anthony Daly’s book or have researched into child abuse in Westminster (and followed the Westminster strand of the IICSA), you will instantly recognise Havers name and alarm bells will be ringing.
Havers was not only described as ‘indiscreet’ but also as a ‘sexual deviant’, having been accused of having sex whilst wearing his father’s wig, plus his name came up a number of times during evidence given to IICSA and how he was alleged to have interfered in investigations into prominent people in order to prevent prosecutions and save their embarrassment and social standings.
In December 2018, Village Magazine also published the horrific memoirs of Alan Kerr in ‘The Boy on the Meat Rack‘, who was unfortunate enough to be dragged through the ‘care’ system in Northern Ireland, alongside his siblings including Richard, where they ended up at notorious Kincora. Alan was also a member of the Belfast Boys’ Brigade.
1993 – AN ANONYMOUS LETTER
In September 1993, the offices of the Irish newspaper Sunday Life received an anonymous letter and drawing of a suspect in connection with Brian’s murder, which was passed to police. The letter claimed that the man had lived close to Ormeau Park where Brian was heading on the day he went missing and also provided a current address for the man.
Joan and Brian, who had relocated to Dundee, Scotland, issued another plea for information to catch their son’s killer.
2003 – SINISTER MOTIVES?
Three decades after Brian’s murder, The Scotsman newspaper reported that the police had refused to rule out either witchcraft or paedophilia in relation to the case.
2013 – A BROTHER’S DENIAL
In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of Brian’s disappearance, his brother, William, firmly denied he had played any part in the murder of his little brother. William was 16 when his brother disappeared and police questioned him twice – first in 1976 and again in 2004 – during reinvestigations of the case. His ex-wife, Sarah McLeod, claimed he had confessed to having killed his young brother.
William, who had subsequently changed his name by deed poll to escape the pointing fingers, told the BBC that due to the police’s coercive behaviour, his mother not only went to her grave with the belief he may have been involved somehow, but he no longer had communication with any of his family because they all suspected he was responsible.
The eldest brother, Eddie, described the affect Brian’s murder had on the whole family, stating that both his parents turned to drink and the family as a whole lived on the verge of nervous breakdowns.
- Boys’ Brigade leader who traded abuse images, 2014
- Abuser Henry Clarke tracked down to Canada, 2017
- Prince Edward’s visit to Boys’ Brigade, 2014
- Murder confession, 2008
- Man denies killing brother, 2013
- Victims of abuse in the North still waiting for justice, 2014
- Kincora link to murder of Brian McDermott discussed, 2013
- Liam Adams