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Senior Northern Ireland Judge, Wife Killed In IRA Bombing

April 26, 1987

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Guerrillas of the Irish Republican Army killed Northern Ireland’s second- highest judge and his wife Saturday in a bomb blast that turned their car into a fireball.

Later Saturday, gunmen killed an off-duty member of the Ulster Defense Regiment, a locally recruited British army unit, on his farm in Pomeroy, 40 miles west of Belfast. Police Sgt. Jim Green said he assumed the IRA was responsible.

Six people, including three Irish rugby players, were wounded in the bombing that killed Lord Justice Maurice Gibson and his wife as they were driving along a road about two-thirds of a mile from the border with the Irish Republic.

The outlawed IRA said it ″executed″ Gibson because he cleared three Northern Ireland policemen of killing an unarmed IRA suspect in 1984.

IRA killings have taken 18 lives this year.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary, the British province’s police force, said the bomb apparently was planted in a car left by the side of the main road from Belfast to Dublin, and detonated by remote control as three cars were passing.

Gibson’s car took the full blast, blazing like a ″ball of fire,″ said Dr. David Irwin, an injured rugby player.

His car was split in half by the judge’s careening vehicle.

″It was so bad we could not see anybody inside,″ he said. ″There was a large crater on the other side of the road. ... I couldn’t get the occupants of the other car. The flames were too hot.″

Police said the bodies of the two victims were burned beyond recognition, and authorities were waiting for dental records to formally identify them.

But the British government’s Northern Ireland Office confirmed late Saturday that Gibson, 73, and his wife, Cecily, 70, were killed.

He was ranked only below the lord chief justice of Northern Ireland, Lord Lowry, in the province.

Irwin, 28, said he pulled fellow rugby players Nigel Carr, 27, and Philip Rainey, 27, from the car he was driving and treated them at the side of the road.

Police said six people - three from Irwin’s car and three from another southbound car - were taken to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry and treated for cuts, shock and bruises. Carr, the only one admitted, suffered head, chest and stomach injuries.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent a message to the head of the Northern Ireland judiciary expressing ″horror″ at the killings. She said the country owed the judges ″a tremendous debt″ for their courage in presiding over cases in the strife-torn province.

Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey pledged that no effort would be spared to bring the killers to justice. ″This horrible act must be condemned by every right-thinking person,″ he said.

The IRA is outlawed on either side of the border.

Gibson, an appellate judge, had been a prime IRA target since he acquitted the three Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and commended them for bringing the slain IRA man, Eugene Toman, to what he called ″the final court of justice.″

Moderate Roman Catholics and the primate of all Ireland, Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich, protested. A month later, the IRA claimed responsibility for planting a bomb that destroyed Gibson’s vacation home in the Irish Republic.

In its brief statement Saturday, the IRA claimed responsibility for what it called ″the execution of show trial judge Lord Justice Gibson.″

″He acted as a judge and jury and supported the RUC executioners, but there are other judges in Ireland beside those imposed by Britain,″ the statement said.

The IRA is fighting to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unite the Protestant-dominated province with the mainly Catholic Irish Republic under a socialist government.

The Gibsons had taken the overnight ferry from England to Dun Laoghaire, near Dublin, and were given a police escort to the border Saturday morning. The bomb exploded as they drove between the Northern Ireland border and the main customs post south of Newry in County Down.

James Molyneaux, head of Northern Ireland’s biggest Protestant party, the Official Unionists, claimed the Irish Republic’s police force was penetrated by an IRA operative, who knew the judge’s travel plans. The plans were classified.

In Dublin, Irish police headquarters refused comment on Molyneaux’s allegation, saying it never commented on remarks by politicians.

More than 2,500 people have been killed since sectarian violence began in Northern Ireland in 1969.

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