BBC: On This Day – 12 May 1981

ON THIS DAY

Video news report

12 May 1981: Second IRA protester dies in jail



Women clang dustbin lids on the road to mark Francis Hughes’ death

A second IRA hunger striker, 25-year-old Francis Hughes, has starved to death in the Maze Prison near Lisburn in County Antrim.

His death comes a week after the death of Bobby Sands on 5 May, the first to die in a republican campaign for political status to be granted to IRA prisoners.

“His blood is on Margaret Thatcher’s hands”.

Oliver Hughes, Francis Hughes’ brother

Hughes began refusing food and medical attention a week after Sands began his hunger strike on 1 March. He lapsed into unconsciousness and died at 1743BST today.

As news of his death spread in Catholic areas of Belfast and Londonderry, women clanged dustbin lids and young men stoned army vehicles, threw petrol bombs and hijacked lorries.

Hughes’ brother, Oliver, blamed the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for his death. Speaking from his hometown of Bellaghy he said: “Margaret Thatcher and the British Government have murdered my brother and his blood is on Margaret Thatcher’s hands.”

The condition of two other hunger strikers at the Maze, Raymond McCreesh and Patrick O’Hara, continues to deteriorate.

Their five demands include: the right to wear their own clothes, refrain from prison work, associate freely with other Republican prisoners, to have visits and parcels once a week and the right to have lost remission on sentences restored.

“Absolute fanatic”

Security forces have said Hughes was “an absolute fanatic whose name stood for murder and nothing else”. A spokesman went on to describe him as “as vicious a man as you could meet, a ruthless killer who thrived on what he was doing”.

His republican colleagues hailed him as “fearless and active”.

Four years ago, Hughes became a wanted man after the home of a policeman was blown up in County Tyrone. No-one was hurt but Hughes’ fingerprints were found on adhesive tape used on the bomb.

In March 1978 he was finally caught after a gun battle at Bellaghy and eventually sentenced to a total of 83 years in prison for his six-year-long career as an IRA gunman and bomber.

The government is refusing to grant any of the hunger strikers’ demands. Mrs Thatcher says they are a cover for gaining political status, a special category denied paramilitaries in the Maze since 1976.

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