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25th anniversary of lecturer's investigative film about Ireland bombings

Posted on 06 July 2018


6 July, 2018 marks 25 years since ITV first screened a Leeds Trinity University lecturer's film investigating the controversial Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974​ – and a quarter of a century on, it is still having a significant and lasting impact on victims, survivors and investigators.

Produced and directed by Glyn Middleton, Senior Lecturer in Broadcast Media at Leeds Trinity University, Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre was screened by ITV in the award-winning "First Tuesday" documentary slot on network British TV.

It followed a two-year investigation into the unsolved atrocity, which killed 34​ people and injured more than 200, when four car bombs exploded during evening rush hour. It was the biggest loss of life of any terrorist act until the Omagh bombing.

Based on hundreds of interviews carried out with terrorists and police officers on both sides of the Irish border, the film argued that many of the suspects were run at the time as 'sources' or agents of the Security Forces and that they had been protected from arrest.

The film helped to trigger a campaign for justice for survivors and families of those killed, and a series of legal battles followed – many continue to this day.

Glyn Middleton, Senior Lecturer in Broadcast Media at Leeds Trinity University, said: "For survivors and families of those killed, the film provided detail and information, which had been kept secret for nineteen years – and it helped to kickstart their campaign for justice, which continues today.

"Many campaigners and human rights activists have described it as the first film to tackle head-on the controversial issue of collusion between loyalist (Protestant) terrorists, police, army and intelligence officers. Some draw the line from the screening of the film to a series of legal battles which threaten to expose the truth today – more than four decades after the atrocity."

Reflecting on the interviews for the film, Glyn recalls: "There was one survivor who had to step over severed arms and legs to identify his two murdered grandchildren – and another who revealed that, nineteen years after he survived the blast, doctors regularly had to remove parts of car metal from his body.

"The programme was ground-breaking, because it suggested – from evidence found in secret police files – that the police investigation had identified eight key suspects, picked out by eye witnesses from photographs (and twelve more from intelligence), despite the fact that Irish politicians had continually told victims' relatives that there were no suspects."

After the screening, MPs such as Ken Livingstone raised the film's chilling conclusions in Parliament, investigative journalist Paul Foot wrote a series of articles and film-maker Ken Loach called it the 'film of the year'. Despite this, the British Government of the day chose to ignore its controversial findings.

Glyn said: "Despite repeated requests by the Irish Government, the British Government has refused (and still refuses) to release official files, for reasons of national security."

In Ireland, the response has been very different. Glyn added: "I've been regularly called to give evidence to the Irish Department of Justice, the Irish Dail (Parliament), two official public enquiries run by high court judges and countless investigations by police on both sides of the border. 

"As recently as last week, I was interviewed about secret meetings I'd had with terrorists who were part of a gang that's alleged to have killed more than 120 people".

Glyn joined Leeds Trinity University in 2015, after a long and distinguished career as an award-winning programme-maker for numerous British and international broadcasters.

After making a series of high-profile international documentaries for ITV in South Africa, Peru, the United States, Sicily, Ireland and the UK, he co-founded True North Productions, which has grown into one of the most successful independent production companies in the UK - making documentaries and other factual programmes of a wide range of channels, including the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Channel 5, National Geographic, Discovery, the History Channel, MTV and CCTV9 China.  

Glyn added: "I sometimes mention it to my students as 'the film that never goes away', because a quarter of a century on, I'm still called on to give first-hand evidence to official inquiries and investigations, or to speak to long-suffering victims. So it's a great example of how documentaries can have a significant and lasting impact – and why young film-makers should always keep their notes, tapes and other related materials."