1971 saw a steady escalation in violence across the north. The first British soldier to die in Derry, William Joliffe, perished in a petrol bombing at Westland Street on 1 March.
In July, soldiers killed Seamus Cusack (28) and Desmond Beattie (19). A gulf opened between the British Army and the local community which has never been bridged.
On 8 July, Cusack was shot in William Street. For fear of arrest, he wasn’t taken to a local hospital, but he bled to death en route to Letterkenny, 22 miles away in Donegal. He’d been unarmed when shot, but the British Army labelled him a ‘gunman’. Labelling victims of British Army violence as either gunmen or bombers became a pattern in official reporting of events. In the subsequent rioting, Beattie was shot dead in the Bogside. The Army labelled him a bomber. Later forensic tests showed he hadn’t handled explosives.
There was intense, sustained rioting in response to Beattie’s death, as well as a siege of the British base at Bligh’s Lane and a number of IRA attacks. When demand for a public inquiry from the newly-formed SDLP was refused, the party withdrew from Stormont in protest. Later, a “people’s inquiry” – chaired by Tony (Lord) Gifford – established the innocence of Cusack and Beattie.
On 24 July, Damien Harkin (9) was crushed by a British Army lorry in the Bogside. His death was officially recorded as a traffic accident and Damien is not listed as a victim of the conflict in the north.