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Peter Hadden

Suicide at Castlereagh

Labour Movement must demand trade union enquiry
into the death of Brian Maguire

(May 1978)

From Militant [UK], No. 406, 19 May 1978.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The death of Brian Maguire has brought the foul activities perpetrated by the RUC at Belfast’s Castlereagh police station into clear focus.

Brian Maguire was arrested at 6 a.m. of Tuesday May 9th and held for questioning about possible involvement in the shooting of a policeman in Lisburn three weeks earlier. Twenty-four hours later his body was found hanging by a sheet in his cell.

Trade Union activist

The death follows repeated allegations from both Loyalist and Republican prisoners at the treatment they have received inside Castlereagh police station.

The reports of torture, degradation, and severe beatings have been confirmed by both sides and also by medical opinion. Something which cannot be ignored is in relation to Maguire’s death is that one of the torture methods used in Castlereagh has been partial strangulation by hanging of suspects.

The trade union movement should take particular note of this killing, among other reasons because Brian Maguire was an active trade unionist. He was branch registration secretary in AUEW/TASS and was a delegate to the divisional council of TASS. He worked in the Strathearn Audio factory in West Belfast, where as a representative, he was heavily involved in recent struggles against redundancies. These facts should be more than sufficient to prompt the trade union movement, particularly the AUEW, to take up this issue.

Cover up

Already the police have begun a massive cover-up operation. A senior Merseyside detective has been flown in to carry out an investigation.

In a statement issued in order to divert attention from the manner of Brian Maguire’s death, the RUC claimed he signed a “confession” while in Castlereagh. According to their statement the police say Maguire admitted that he had been forced to conceal the gun which had been used in the policeman’s murder because of threats made to himself and his family. Having made this statement, so the RUC story goes, Maguire hanged himself.

The police statement cannot be accepted at face value. It does not explain Maguire’s death. There are two possible explanations for his hanging – and whichever is true, the police stand fully to blame.


One is that the sadists of the RUC torture squads went “too far” with their torture methods on this occasion. A “mock” hanging may have turned into the real thing. According to ex-prisoners, it would have been virtually impossible for one man to hang himself in the Castlereagh cells. It has also been claimed that prisoners are not provided with sheets – only with blankets – so where did Maguire conveniently get his hands on a sheet?

The other possible explanation is that Maguire was driven by torture to such despair that he killed himself. If he did sign a “confession” this means little or nothing. Numerous other prisoners in Castlereagh have been forced into signing “confessions” which in many cases have later been proven to be false. If Maguire was broken after twenty-four hours of interrogation, this simply raises the question: what were the methods used?


As a trade unionist, a shop steward active in resisting redundancies, he would not have been unused to pressure. What sort of pressure could have been applied in the space of twenty-four hours or less to take his own life?

Until these questions are answered the trade union movement cannot afford to rest. The police enquiry into police brutality must be rejected for what it is – a mere sham.

Already the call has been made for a full, impartial enquiry. AUEW/TASS took the opportunity at the recent conference of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to issue this call.


A full enquiry must indeed be held. But just as no police enquiry can be trusted, neither could anybody appointed by the government. The workers must have their own enquiry established by the trade union movement.

Trade unionists in Britain and Ireland should immediately move resolutions through their branches, most particularly through branches of TASS, demanding that the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU, together with AUEW/TASS, set up their own enquiry into the death of Brian Maguire and also into the interrogation methods being used in Castlereagh.

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Last updated: 17 February 2020