Kelly describes Maze escape shooting (UTV)

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly has described the moment a prison warder was shot in the head during the Maze jailbreak 30 years ago.

Mr Kelly was one of 38 republican prisoners who escaped the high security facility on 25 September 1983 – the biggest mass breakout in British penal history.

In his new book, The Escape, he gives his version of events explaining how it was planned and how the weapons were smuggled into the H Blocks.

The North Belfast MLA goes on to detail how one prisoner officer was shot and wounded in the control room as the inmates made their getaway – but does not reveal who fired the gun.

“I chose not to say anything more about it,” Mr Kelly told UTV.

“I accept that there was a number of people in the circle and clearly one of the prisoners shot the prison officer. I was charged with it and found not guilty and that is where I leave it.

“I think what happened on the day – and there was another prison officer shot and there was a small number of people injured, and there was a prison officer – James Ferris – who died of a heart attack, but if you look at it in the whole there was minimal violence used for the type of IRA operation involved and the number of weapons involved.”

While half of those involved were recaptured within days, the mass escape drew headlines around the world and led to humiliation for the government and prison authorities.

Mr Kelly, who had been serving time for his role in 1973 bombing of the Old Bailey, went on the run in Europe before being caught in Amsterdam some years later in 1986.

Asked was the escape a kind of “revenge” for the deaths of 10 republican hunger strikers, he instead described it as “the answer”.

“It was the answer to the hunger strikes because it was more than an escape, it was to say ‘you think you’ve beaten us but you haven’t’,” he said.

“The boast was that this was the most secure prison in Europe, that was the boast, our slogan at the time was ‘smash the H Blocks’ and this was it.”

The news that Gerry Kelly was writing a book about the Maze escape proved controversial and there were accusations by some that he is “glorifying terrorism”.

Former prison officer Dessie Waterworth said the timing of the book’s release “stinks”.

He continued: “They had their 25th anniversary in Letterkenny and they were giving medals, now they’ve had their 30th anniversary and a book out. It’s just a propaganda exercise.”

However the Sinn Féin politician maintains it was an important event in republican history.

He said: “This was, in the scheme of things, a huge event in republican history. Escapes are generally told from the point of view of the prisoner and I’m telling this from the view of a republican prisoner. It was 30 years ago but I think it is relevant to now.”

Describing his book, he adds: “I think it’s a good yarn – if it was about Colditz, or some other group besides republicans, the unionists would actually enjoy it as well.”


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