Northern Ireland

Conclusions of HET report into Bernadette Friel death

The HET report into the death of Bernadette Friel in 1975 were released by her family on Monday. Its conclusions are detailed here:

  • On Sunday, October 19, 1975, Bernadette Friel was present at 413 Carnhill, Shantallow, Derry the home of Thomas John Ramsay. Also present was Hugh Stanley and Ramsay's three young children. Three other young boys were also downstairs at this time.
  • Bernadette received a fatal shot to the head whilst upstairs in a bedroom at 413 Carnhill, Derry with Thomas Ramsay and Hugh Stanley. Bernadette subsequently died at Altnagelvin Hospital on Tuesday, October 21, from her injuries.
  • The army, who were on a routine patrol of the area, were quickly on the scene. It is known that during this period of time, nationalist areas, such as the Carnhill estate were often saturated with army patrols.
  • Both men were detained by the army and later handed over to the police for questioning. After initial lies and concealing the weapon they eventually alleged that they had been engaged in a form of Russian Roulette with a revolver, at Bernadette's suggestion.
  • They further alleged that only one round was fired from a .45 revolver, which hit Bernadette in the head. Hugh Stanley suggested that Thomas Ramsay attempted to fire the weapon twice.
  • Only one spent cartridge, which was recovered in the bathroom cabinet, was found during a search of the premises. This cartridge has been forensically linked to the weapon used.
  • Ramsay was charged with Bernadette's murder and firearms offences however, on the directions of the DPP this was changed to manslaughter and firearms offences. Thomas Ramsay served a one-year term of imprisonment. Hugh Stanley was given a conditional discharge for firearms offences.
  • The revolver used was recovered at the scene. The bullet itself could not be subjected to any comparison tests due to the degree of distortion. There are no ballistic links to any other murders. There are no further forensic or fingerprint opportunities.
  • The absence of direct evidence independent of Ramsay and Stanley allied to their clear motivation to explain Bernadette's death in a manner, which reduces their culpability casts significant doubt on the "Russian Roulette" explanation.
  • It is incomprehensible to consider that Bernadette Friel would have consented to any engagement in such irrational and life-threatening behaviour.
  • Ramsay was an ex-British soldier who would therefore be in no doubt about the dangers associated with such reckless use of firearms. His explanation clearly lacks credibility. Whilst it is clear that Ramsay fired the single shot, which killed Bernadette, the reasons and the exact circumstances remain in doubt.
  • HET believes Ramsay deliberately shot Bernadette and fabricated the "Russian Roulette" story, one of a sequence of lies he gave investigators.