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Scrutinising claims of a 'vicious' attack on Shell protester

Peter Murtagh - Irish Times

A letter written to this newspaper posed an interesting question last week. “Are any of the nation’s newspapers curious about what actually happened in Rossport the night Willie Corduff was hospitalised?” asked the writer.

It’s an important question because in the past week what allegedly happened has been transmuted into bald fact without qualification by those leading the charge.

According to the Shell to Sea protest group, Corduff was subjected to a “vicious and brutal attack”, a “severe beating by masked men” who “beat him viciously about the head and knees” with the result that he had to be hospitalised.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Corduff was “physically attacked, under cover of darkness, by the agents of a multinational corporation, resulting in his being hospitalised and left severely hurt and traumatised”.

The singer Christy Moore told listeners to RTÉ Radio 1 last week that Corduff was “very badly beaten up by security men”.

So what did happen?

Willie Corduff is a prominent member of Shell to Sea whose protest turned nasty one day last month. Shell erected fencing near the foreshore at Glengad in preparation for eventual pipe laying. (An oral planning hearing on this is due to begin this week.)

Mayo County Council says the fencing does not need planning permission, unlike the pipe. Protesters disagree and a group broke into the fenced-off area on April 22nd, commandeered digging machinery and smashed the fence.

At around the same time, Willie Corduff sought to stop a lorry delivering to the fenced-off area by getting under the wheels of the truck. A standoff ensued but in the early hours of April 23rd, Corduff was no longer under the lorry, an ambulance was called and he was taken to Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar. According to Shell to Sea, members of a “Shell security force . . . wearing balaclavas moved in to forcibly remove him”.

An unnamed resident was quoted saying Corduff was kicked and hit “with large batons” and “forcibly removed by the masked Shell security into an adjacent field where he was then knocked to the ground, kicked and beaten”. Corduff said: “I thought they were trying to kill me. They beat me until I stopped moving. I heard one of them say, ‘Stop now lads, he’s nearly finished’.”

A different version of events – from Shell sources – has it that, after some 18 hours under the truck, Corduff got out to stretch his legs and have a pee. At which point he was grabbed by security men, restrained and taken to hospital by an ambulance they called. There is support for some of this version from an unlikely source: the website which supports the protesters. It asserts Corduff “had briefly gotten out from under the truck to stretch his legs”.

Peter Wilcock, a Sligo-based photographer who regards Corduff as a “man of intense integrity and honesty”, took a picture of him in his hospital bed. It was published by the Mayo News. Despite a vicious beating about his head and knees by men wielding “large batons” there are no signs of injury.

“His injuries were not visible,” Wilcock told me, “he says that of course they made sure they hit him where it would not show.”

I asked Shell to Sea last Wednesday whether Corduff would detail his injuries and publish his hospital records to confirm his medical condition on admission. The request was acknowledged but I have yet to obtain the information.

So. Was Willie Corduff “very badly beaten up” as Christy Moore and others claim?

Manuela Riedo was “very badly beaten up” before being raped and murdered. Women in abusive relationships are often “very badly beaten up”. Gay men the world over are not infrequently “very badly beaten up” by violent homophobes. Alleged social delinquents in Northern Ireland, or on sink estates in the Republic, are occasionally “very badly beaten up” by self-appointed republican enforcers. Brave journalists in places like Russia are sometimes “very badly beaten up” and worse by mafia thugs or friends of the politically powerful. Dissenters in dictatorships are often “very badly beaten up”.

But Willie Corduff “very badly beaten up” by Shell’s mercenary thugs? I don’t know because I wasn’t there and I’ve yet to see supporting evidence. But that won’t deter some people pronouncing it as fact.