Corporal James Elliott was a part-time soldier in the 3rd Battalion The Ulster Defence Regiment’s Newry Company. He lived with his wife and three children near Rathfriland, Co. Down, regularly crossing the nearby border because he worked as a lorry driver for a local firm. It was late afternoon, Monday 17 April 1972, when he was kidnapped by armed men near the border crossing post at Killeen. He had been travelling north on the main road from Dublin when seized and then taken back into the Republic of Ireland (ROI).
For 36 hours there was no trace of him as An Garda Síochána (Gardai) and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police mounted operations on both sides of the border to search for him. His booby-trapped body with eleven bullet wounds was discovered, on 19 April, at Altnamackin, Newtownhamilton. A 500 lb homemade device in a culvert and six 5-10Ib claymore-type devices were found some 100 yds from the body, all devices being wired to a firing point on the ROI side of the Border. The booby-traps meant that it took all day for the Army to recover the body (with unfortunate physical consequences) and clear the devices following a Gardai and Irish Army sweep that located the firing point. They were reported to have arrested two men ready to detonate the devices placed to kill Security Forces recovering Cpl Elliott’s body, especially the 500lb ‘mine’ placed in the culvert under the nearby approach road. An officer from 3 UDR, observing the clearance operation from the hillside, was asked by a TV journalist if ‘it could not be hurried up a bit’, otherwise her report would miss the evening Six O’Clock News.
The public revulsion caused by the murder and the use of the body to lure the Army onto the explosives was compounded by rumours that Elliott had been tortured. Claims that the Army and the RUC had made conflicting statements about the alleged signs of torture led to reactions varying from condemnations by politicians to local sectarian incidents of disorder. However, the state pathologist confirmed at the inquest, held six weeks later, that there was no evidence of torture. This is still challenged by the Elliott family. The particularly brutal murder of Corporal James Elliott and the macabre use of his body to lure Security Forces into an ambush was almost certainly designed by the terrorists to attract headlines and provoke sectarian reactions across the local communities. His funeral attracted some 2,000 mourners and was accompanied by disorderly protests in the aftermath. The UDR Battalion’s history recorded: ‘An enduring memory of the funeral was the number of young male mourners who ought to have been in the UDR, yet Rathfriland remained a disappointing recruiting area. Their wrath stopped short at actually enlisting.’
Corporal James Elliot was one of the twenty-six members of The Ulster Defence Regiment killed whilst combatting terrorism in Northern Ireland during 1972.