Acquitted 'Derry Four' member reflects on what could have been after Leicester title win

Gerry McGowan had been signed with Leicester before being forced to go on the run

Leicester

Picture by: Nigel French / PA Wire/Press Association Images

For one man, the celebrations surrounding Leicester's title win this week have been tinged with sadness and a sense of a life lost.

At the age of 17, Gerry McGowan had signed with Leicester football club (at the same time as Gary Lineker) and had a promising career ahead of him.

However, everything changed when Gerry was one of four teenage boys arrested by police in 1979 and charged with the murder of soldier Steven Kirby in Derry.

The four teens went on the run after being released on bail - and had to live as fugitives until they were acquitted in 1998.

Nearly 20 years after their acquittal, the 'Derry Four' - McGowan, Stephen Crumlish, Gerry Kelly, and Michael Toner - still do not have answers as to they were charged in the first place.

Gerry spoke to Pat Kenny about his ordeal, saying his "whole life" has been linked with Leicester.

"It's quite poignant... but quite ironic at the same time because I've been a Tottenham fan all my life!" he joked.

"I was jumping for joy, because my allegiance was definitely with Leicester the last few weeks... My whole life has been linked with the club [...] so I found myself quite sad and reflective I suppose," he explained.

"I've never been allowed to forget my history, because if I buy a packet of crisps [or watch] Match of the Day [...] there is a reminder in front of me [through] Gary Lineker," he reflected.

Gerry says he had absolutely no trouble with the police prior to his arrest, and had spent several months in Leicester before his fateful return to Northern Ireland.

He says the most harrowing things about his ordeal was what his now late parents had to go through.

"I am now a father," he reflected. "My son, when he reached the age I was then... I realised the torture and pain they went through. As a 17-year-old, when this was all happening, we didn't realise the seriousness of it.

"I can still remember on the day of the acquittal, my mother had passed away already [...] and my father said 'now I can go to your mother," he explained.

"These four men need justice"

Gerry says it was unheard of for anybody to get bail conditions during a murder investigation.

"I think personally that the police realised their mistake, and they let us out. For the next 20 months, we kept very strict bail conditions," he told Pat.

The four teenagers turned up for their trial in 1980, and on the second day of the trial there was an adjournment requested.

"It was outside in the foyer of the courthouse," Gerry recalled. "Our legal team approached us and we were basically told to get out of Northern Ireland. Otherwise we would have had the option of going down for life, or doing 15 years if we pleaded guilty".

Initially, Gerry moved to Dublin, where he spent five or six years. He never hid his whereabouts, and played soccer with Shamrock Rovers, Finn Harps and Shelbourne - activity that would often see his name printed in the sports' pages of newspapers on both sides of the border.

"I wasn't hiding my whereabouts. I soon became aware that the police didn't seek an extradition order. To me they felt that the case was closed once they got us out of their hair".

Gerry says that he found it easier before his acquittal in 1998, as many questions still have to be answered over the initial arrests.

Paul O’Connor, Director of the Pat Finucane Centre, has been assisting Gerry in efforts to get answers and closure.

"This case has been raised with the Irish Government [but] we need people to be saying to the PSNI, the justice system, that 'you need to finish this off'. These four men need justice," he explained, "this needs to be dealt with."