Northern Ireland

Man denies killing brother in Belfast 40 years ago

Brian McDermott
Image caption Brian was 10 when he was murdered in Belfast

A brother of a Belfast schoolboy murdered 40 years ago has again denied any involvement in the killing.

The body of Brian McDermott, 10, was discovered in a sack in the River Lagan in September 1973. He had been mutilated and burned.

No-one has been convicted of the killing. His brother, William, accepts he is still seen as the chief suspect.

Meanwhile, the boy's eldest brother, Eddie, has made a fresh appeal for information.

Speaking on the 40th anniversary of Brian's killing, William McDermott said: "My family has to live with the fact that Brian was murdered. I have to live with the fact that I was accused of doing it."

William, aged 16 at the time of the murder, said he was questioned twice by detectives investigating the murder - once in 1976, and again in 2004 when the case was re-investigated.

He said: "I have been treated very badly. As far as the police are concerned, they believe that I am guilty. They said to me: 'Billy we have the evidence', and they tried to get me to confess to something that I did not commit. I am innocent and remain so until proven guilty in a court of law."

Brian lived in Well Street in the lower Woodstock Road area of east Belfast, with his parents, two brothers and two sisters.


Although questioned by police in 1976, no charges were brought against William McDermott.

Now aged 56, he said he had changed his name by deed poll to escape from the stigma of being a suspect in his brother's murder - something that, he said, has had a huge impact on his life.

"My mother seemed to believe right to her very end that I might have been responsible. It's horrendous. I don't keep in touch, speak or communicate with the other members of my family. They have ostracised me. They think I did it. They think I was responsible."

After his brother, Brian, was murdered William left Northern Ireland but returned for a tour of duty after he joined the Army.

Three years after the murder, in 1976, he was arrested and questioned by the RUC about the murder of his brother for the first time, after he came to the attention of the police for hitting his mother.

Image caption William McDermott denies killing his younger brother and appealed for the killer to come forward

"They did get a confession from me at the time but it was unfounded. It could not be used. It was fabricated. The statement was coerced out of me and was a complete non-runner.


"I was 16 at the time and to consider doing what happened to Brian was outrageous, but they tried everything."

The motive the police suggested to him, he said, was a falling-out with his younger brother.

"He had hit me across the back with a stick, and the motive was maybe thought to be childhood revenge," he said.

William McDermott was released from custody without charge for the second time in 2004.

In January 2008, details of an alleged admission were made public during a non-related court appearance at Worcester Magistrates Court.

During that hearing, prosecutors told a district judge that William McDermott had confided in his former wife that he had murdered his brother.

It is an allegation which he denies.

He said: "I am not a free man. Since 1976 I have never been a free man since the police first accused me of my brother's murder. I will remain a suspect until someone else confesses to the murder.

"I would love somebody to come forward (and admit to it.) Even if they were to remain anonymous, that would take the finger of suspicion away from me. That is the best thing that could happen to me."

Meanwhile, Brian McDermott's eldest brother, Eddie McDermott, made an appeal for information on the 40th anniversary of the murder.

"Forty years is a long time. People have gone through a great deal of stress through the Troubles, but I am sure this remains in a lot of people's minds. There has got to be something out there that would bring this killer to justice," he said.

"That is all we need. Just one little clue. We had, over the years, the people ringing in with little bits of information. But we still need that little bit more, and it's the people of Northern Ireland who would probably know that information or who the killer is."

Eddie said the killing had a dramatic impact on his family.

"Mum and dad turned to drink, we all were very close to breakdowns, it was very difficult," he said.

"Both my mum and dad, when they spoke about when they died, (wanted) to be buried with Brian and dad got his wish. We buried dad with Brian."

Eddie said despite the passing of time, he would never give up hope that whoever killed his brother would be brought to justice.

"I still think that whoever did it is still alive and living somewhere either in the UK or in Northern Ireland, and certainly they will probably be thinking they've got away with it," he said.

"All they have to do now is come forward and get it off their chest, because they must be suffering as well. I'll never give up. One day justice will be done."