It was one damn good car: In hospital after a kneecapping, and just before he died, Johnny McGivern wrote about his life, in stories introduced here by Malachi O'Doherty

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IGOT home that Friday night at about two o'clock and just as I was about to head into the house I stood at the path, well staggered really, and I thought of what a night it was. Most of the night was good at the club. The disco was brilliant and the bouncers didn't even come near our table all night, which was strange because we were making a load of noise, giving the girls stick walking past until Burly was grabbed by a bouncer and he was carried out by at least eight of them because he couldn't walk, but it turned out to be a good move because he had pounds 15 in his pocket and that paid for the next round.

So I went into the house and there was nobody up except the damned budgie. Somebody forgot to put something over the cage and every time it sees me it goes crackers, well anyway, I went on up to bed.

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of banging at our front door. It was about 9.30 at this time, and I thought it would be a strange time for the cops to come, and at that moment I remembered the night before and my head just went into a spin and it hurt like mad but the bedroom door burst open and this man came in with a CB (radio) in his hands. I noticed he was wearing gloves and he was mostly dressed in black.

Then he left the room but shortly came in again and said he was from the Provisional Irish Republican Army and that he was along with the Belfast Brigade cleaning up Twinbrook and Poleglass of hoods, and that he wanted me and some of my mates for questioning, but he promised me and my parents that I wouldn't be harmed, and that I would be home within the hour. And then he said: 'Get dressed quick and don't try anything stupid.'

As soon as he went downstairs, I forgot about the hangover and I went into a state of shock. I looked out the backroom window and I noticed a car parked over by the fence with a lot of men in it. So that was no way out. But then I thought what they wanted to question me about.

Surely they weren't really interested in a joyrider, but I remembered what happened to Harry. He got his arms and legs broke, plus tar and feathered, and he was only a joyrider, and all sorts of things raced through my mind and I thought of the amnesty I had signed a month before, and suddenly I got this rotten feeling in my stomach that it was this amnesty that had got me in this position because I had admitted stealing over 100 cars and they made me sign a statement that if I joyrided again I would be dealt with by the Republican movement, but I did. I was in a car on Thursday night and I was seen getting out of it at the entrance of Twinbrook, so this is what it was all about.

To be honest, I would, at all times, wish it was the cops at the door, but I had to bring myself back to reality and face it. I thought: 'God, I wish I went a week from now and seen what had happened.'

At that moment my mother and father came into the room and I noticed they were both crying, but I told them I had done nothing and that I would be all right and back soon, so that calmed them down a bit. I left the house with the man and another man. Both were dressed the same but there was another man at the end of the street and he had a big black bin-liner with something long in it, and he was wearing a balaclava and he kept his distance, plus he was leading us around towards the shops where we met my mate Quinn with two more men. There

was three car loads of people and the thought went to my head that they must be going to make an example of us.

The man that was walking in front of us came over and said if we didn't do as he said we would be two sorry people. So he and the other men brought us over to the corner of the shops and the wall so that it was like a V-shape and the place was absolutely stinking. The men started to form an arc around me and my mate and then they said: 'Lay face down.'

They told us to put our arms behind our back, and then they Sellotaped our mouths. When they done that, me and my mate looked at each other and I bet if anybody had seen the fright in our eyes it would scare the hell out of them.

We lay there for about five minutes and one of the men said something in Irish. The man with the bag pulled out a baseball bat and a leg of a table, and as I seen them I got uneasy and started to turn around, but the men kept kicking me and punching me, shouting to keep face down. But when the blows started I couldn't take it and I pulled the tape off and rolled round. But the man wouldn't stop. With all the shouting going on all the neighbours were out, and they were calling the men everything, so I kept kicking and finally I kicked the stick out of the man's hand. The man was a skinny-looking creep but there was too many Provies there. The man swapped over with the other man with the baseball bat and he started laying the blows in, but by now there was a crowd gathering and I think the IRA thought it was too risky, and they started to move away and get into their cars. As they did this everybody was shouting abuse after them, so I felt the urge to shout as well but I hadn't got the strength. I turned round to my mate, but he didn't move so I shouted to the crowd to get an ambulance and something to drink. My Da came round and he was shouting so I told him to shut up because he was making it worse.

The ambulance came shortly after that, and I gave out a great sigh of relief. I thought I wasn't hurt that much because I was able to move my legs, but my arms felt broke. I could get up and, to be honest, I could walk into the ambulance. But when I got into it I just flopped down on to the bed and my mate was carried into the other. He looked very bad so I felt sorry for him because he wasn't really all that bad and these men thought they were big lads and beat up two 16-year-olds with baseball bats and that really made me think there was no good in Northern Ireland left.

When the ambulance arrived at the BCH (Belfast City Hospital), I felt a bit better, because the gas was sort of calming me and my mate down. We were separated when we got our X-rays, and thank God all I got was very bad bruising and the two of us never suffered anything broke, so that sort of made us feel better and we were let out a couple of hours later. All my mates came round with drink, sweets and it really cheered me up, and all the neighbours comforted my parents, but I will always remember that Saturday.

THE MANTA was metallic black and two-tone grey and it had a sunroof and alloy wheels with bucket seats. In other words, it was one damn good car. The name was a 1.8S Berlinetta, which isn't top of the range, but about pounds 10,000-worth.

I walked up the street, just about to go round the corner, and my heart was beating faster thinking of being behind the wheel. I had seen bandsmen about, all wearing red, white and blue, but I didn't think much of it.

But I seen a car with five in it and they were all staring at me. I could feel their beady eyes on me and I was wondering what they were thinking, but then I got scared, so I quickened my pace to get to the Manta. I turned the corner and to my delight there she was, just as we had left her, so I scanned for police, in case it was a set-up. But there was none.

I went to the driver's door, just to put the screwdriver in the lock, when suddenly I spied a man coming out of the house directly facing me. The stare he gave me would make your blood curdle, but I thought it's too late now, get in quick and get away fast. I opened the door and pulled the casing off and started the car and left with wheels burning rubber the whole way down the street and round the bend that takes me to the road to Twinbrook.

But to my horror, you'll never believe what was there. A whole damn parade with police and UDR all standing up and down the road and directing traffic. I thought they wouldn't have the car reported yet, so I just stopped in the line of traffic, trying to get by and the peeler waved me on and the butterflies were running all over me.

But I could never get near Twinbrook that way because there was a checkpoint on the road to my left that takes me home, so I had to go down Dunmurry, but that was risky because every other time I went down there I got chased, but there was no other way, so I drove on and to my amazement there wasn't one peeler to be seen. I hit Twinbrook in about five minutes and right away I started to throw the car about doing handbrake turns and spinning round corners so fast that there was times I didn't think I would survive. It went along like that for half an hour and there was this big crowd out, and the other stolen car was flying about too. It was an Astra GL. But the Manta I had was much, much faster. I wasn't deliberately running the Astra down. It was just that the Manta was so fast.

I got bored staying there so I went to Glasvey, which is the other side of Twinbrook, a much quieter place, and I livened that place up a bit, and I was sure someone would call the peelers soon, so I decided to get out of there fast, but it was too late.

I had seen the patrol on my left. It was two police jeeps and one army jeep, and as soon as they seen me they gave chase. They were no match for the Manta. It blew them off, but the thing I was worried about was if the last jeep went round the other way and blocked me off, because the way Twinbrook's made, there's only three ways out, and one was away over the other side, and I had already missed the other.

I tried to get down to the third one and I looked in the rear-view mirror and noticed they had split up, but I wasn't really too worried because I could go out round Milltown. While I was driving down that road, I seen Mally and he tried to wave me down, and he was calling me everything for taking the car without him, but when he seen the peelers coming, he ran.

As soon as I went round the roundabout I remembered there was a checkpoint out there, so I doubled back and drove down a grass verge with a jeep right behind me. I went into a cul- de-sac and got out and ran. I got to my mates just in time, because the other police jeep found the Manta. But it didn't do anything, so when they left we went up to look at it. I knew the cops were watching it so I didn't take it till I thought it was safe.

But when I finally did go near it again the man in the house beside it threw a brick and he cracked the passenger side of the windscreen. But it was still all right for me to drive away.

As soon as I got the car out of the cul-de- sac, I was chased by a jeep, and while I was driving about 60 miles an hour, I seen another jeep going down the library hill, and the way it was going, I thought it was going to hit me, and sure enough it rammed straight into the driver's door and I felt the inner panels almost touching the right-hand side of my body, and the car went out of control, going left and right up and down kerbs, and I fought to control it again. Finally I did, just when it was about to crash into another car.

As I was desperately trying to get away from these jeeps I headed out towards Milltown because there was no other way. I thought that if I drove fast enough before the peelers were behind me, I could let on that I was just another normal car and then accelerate as I came within yards of it, but the jeep must have radioed to them because they were coming at the car as if to shoot, so I done a handbrake- turn ready to dodge the other jeeps, but I conked the engine dead and the police officers were all round the car trying to trail me out.

The passenger door was locked and my driver door was squashed in and I was trying to find the screwdriver, which I did find under the seat, and when I started up they all ran behind their jeeps and I was on the run once more. I thought they were going to shoot at me, but no. They didn't shoot, and while I was escaping those jeeps I seen another going straight towards me, and it was playing chicken with me.

At the last moment it went to the left and, to be honest, I was going to go straight into it. But it chickened out. Behind it there was two army Land Rovers and a police jeep coming behind me, and I wasn't going to chance that, so I tugged right and slammed on the brakes and went down a grass verge, but to my horror I heard an army helicopter overhead, and it came right down and wouldn't go away.

I had lost the jeeps but there was no way I was going to get away from the helicopter, so I thought I should get out. I drove into the shops, got out and ran. But the army stopped and got out, and one took aim at me and shouted, 'Stop or I'll shoot'.

But I wasn't stopping. Later on, I heard that if it wasn't for a policeman telling the Brit to stop, he would have shot me.

As I was running I took my coat off, but it was still no use. The helicopter was still there. So I ran down to the school, and I was trying to make my way to the forest, but the helicopter knew what I was trying to do, so it was directing the jeeps to block me off. They did, two at the front and one behind.

They all got out of the jeeps and came at me, punching and kicking and trailed me into the back of a jeep. I thought, Johnny, this is going to be hell now. Because they had to chase me for nearly half an hour, wrecked one jeep, and they had to use a helicopter, and if it wasn't for that chopper I'd have been free.

But then I was thinking of the beatings and shouting I would get when I got home.

As they drove into Woodburn police-army barracks, the peelers were all laughing, saying I was in for a hiding and that they were throwing the owner of the car into the cell with me. But I was more interested in what my parents were going to say.

When I got into the place, and my property was taken off me and lodged in the big red book, as everybody says, they led me down to the galleys, which is another phrase of speech everybody says.

I was lying on the hard plastic mattress in the corner when the two detectives came in, and they said was I going to co-operate, and I said yes. So they left. As I was lying there thinking, I thought that I could get off with this if I never owned up to it, and they could only keep me for 48 hours and send me home if they couldn't prove it was me.

But when they started asking questions, they laughed and said there was witnesses and fingerprints and a film from the helicopter. But still I never said I done it.

So they threw me back in the cell and I heard these enormous bangs, and the whole place started to shudder. And the next minute a loud buzz was sounding all over the place. But I didn't know what to think.

Then I came to the conclusion that the barracks were being bombed and I was locked in this small room, and I could be trapped any second. A soldier let me out and told me my mother and aunt was waiting and I was going home, and I was so happy, but on one condition, that I came back tomorrow to admit everything that happened that night.

So I said yes, just to get out, but I also asked him what was the noise and he said the place was being mortar-bombed, and everybody was to get out.

So we ran out across the road to get into my aunt's car, and I seen hundreds of soldiers all over the place, and then smack and then another. It was my Ma hitting me shouting: 'Are you pleased you've disgraced yourself, you good- for-nothing b***.'

Then I knew I was in for a really hard time, and that was one day to remember.

* * *

IT WAS 7 January, and it was about 6.30 at night. I was sitting bored in the house waiting to go out and get my carryout on a Saturday night, which I thought was going to be a good night.

I walked out of the house, not thinking, not even suspecting what was going to happen to me later that night. I was walking up Gardenmore Road, as usual, when a car was coming up behind me but I didn't think much of it until I was walking along by the boxing club when the car stopped, and two men got out of the back of the car. I've seen that car about and the person who drives it does private taxiing, so I thought they were just somebody that got a lift until one of the men asked me if I knew the name of the flats. The name is right plain to see and the two men were starting to walk towards me, also I noticed the car was staying there, so I thought best get out of here and be safe, when the two men grabbed me. We were fighting in the car park for a couple of minutes before they overpowered me and they pulled me over to the car. I tried to get away again, but it was no use.

They kept on asking me my name, so I told them my cousin's name thinking they wouldn't know because I had never seen them before, but they brought me over to the driver, and he asked me: 'What's your name and don't give me no shit or I'll put a bullet in your back.' I told him the wrong name again and he said throw him in the back of the car.

When they got me in the back they punched and kicked me trying to find out my name, so I told them my real name and I asked why I was being taken away, but they kept saying shut up and keep my head down. I panicked and told them I was only out of Hydebank (a young offenders' centre) a couple of weeks before this and I hadn't done anything. But he turned round and said, 'Where were you last night?' so I told them I got a carryout and was in Danso McCabe's house, and I kept on saying I hadn't done anything, but he turned round and said: 'For fuck's sake shut up moaning. We're only going to talk to you, so calm down.' I knew that wasn't much of an assurance because you couldn't believe a word they said. They said they only wanted me for questioning the last time and they ended up beating me and my mate with sticks, so it didn't really calm me down. It made me worse.

Then I felt the car moving off and they kept telling me to keep my head down. The car drove for about three minutes, but it felt ages to me, and when it stopped at the shops I knew something was wrong, because that's where I got beat up.

The car stopped and they opened the door, and they pulled me out keeping my head down, but I could see more men, possibly three, and they were wearing balaclavas. So they were walking me towards the flats and there was another two men in there and they pulled me over to the corner, pushed me down on my stomach first and one of them sat to on my back, making sure I didn't turn round, but I wanted to know what was wrong and to find out what this was for, but they kept punching and kicking me so I gave up and just lay there.

You should have seen the thoughts that went through my mind, and I didn't care about the pain in my legs and the whole of my body. Then one man came in and said that the other one wasn't in, so I thought they were after another wee lad, but he wasn't there.

I was lying there for about 20 minutes or half an hour when two men came in, pulled me to my feet and were walking me outside. I prayed to God in Heaven to make the next couple of minutes a blank for me.

They brought me round to the wall where the bushes were, and one of them said 'Lay face down.' My heart sank to my feet. I pleaded with them: 'Please, please, leave me alone. I didn't do anything.'

But no.

While I was lying there I kept turning round but they kept kicking me to turn round. I looked quickly and spotted a man standing there with a handgun, and I knew that I was getting kneecapped or done really bad, and to tell you the truth I would have cried if it would have helped, but I couldn't bring myself to cry. I done some begging and when I felt the gun at the back of my leg I just froze.

But the gun didn't work and that made it worse, so I started kicking my legs. They tried to hold them but to no avail. I was in such a panic nobody would have been able to hold them. While the gun kept jamming and me kicking, one of the men said: 'Just stick one in his back.' But another one said: 'Look son, it's only going to make it harder on yourself.' So I kept my legs straight and I heard the thud of the gun and a split second later my right leg jerked and I knew it was shot, but it never sank in that 'Look Johnny, you've been shot', and I never really felt pain in that leg. Then I panicked and shouted: 'Fuck off, that's enough.' And then the thuds sounded again, but the left leg wasn't the same as the right one. I felt it buckle and bend, and I could feel the leg really messed up inside, and the pain and the shock, and all the thoughts that went through my head, and my leg was bending and I couldn't bring myself to cry. I looked up and seen all the men running away and I felt like shouting something after them, but one of the men stayed for a split second and I looked into his eyes and he stared at me for what seemed ages, and then he ran.

A couple of minutes shouting for an ambulance brought some people round, and the look on their faces was like something out of a horror movie. I asked one of them to get me a drink of water or run to the shop for a tin of Coke, and while he was getting that, I asked to be moved on to my side but they made me sit upright against the wall and the legs went jelly, especially the left one. It didn't feel right, so I asked to lay down again and somebody asked would I want my parents round, and I said yes, because I wanted all the comfort I could get.

The Coke came and I thanked him and took an endless drink but couldn't get enough.

The thirst was like fire in my throat and I

couldn't drench the burning going through my whole body.

I seen everybody making way and I knew it must be my Ma or Da and then I seen my Ma. I told her I was all right but she was in shock and I had to tell her to stop shouting because she was nearly taking it out on the people helping me. Then I heard the squeal of tyres and the sound of our car, then the shouts of my Da when he came round the corner. Almost immediately I held my hands out and said, 'Hold me, Daddy, hold me Daddy', and he held my hands and the grip in his hands helped me take my mind off it a bit.

Then I heard people saying, 'There's an ambulance' and I felt relieved a bit but the pain in my leg was driving me crazy. When the two men came round they looked at the legs and I showed them where the wounds were. So they cut the jeans, and I said I had only got them jeans today and everybody started laughing. But it wasn't funny. Then they tried to lift me by my ankles and arms, and I cracked up and couldn't take the pain.

It was like the whole left leg was being crushed, so I started to shout at them, and they didn't look too pleased, so my Da and Joe Corr asked for a hammock sort of thing to carry over to the stretcher. They did that and it was a lot easier than what the ambulance men were doing, but when I was being carried out I seen my brother Gareth's face and I seen the shock and horror in his face and I told someone to get him away, but I looked round and seen everybody looking at me. There was a big crowd.

Looking back now, I wish I never shouted as much, but it's all over now, after two operations lying here in my seventh week in the Belfast City hospital and another couple of months to go. And if it wasn't for the support of my family and friends, I would go insane and this fucking TINGLING IN MY FOOT IS DRIVING ME CRAZY. My mother and brother are in Canada now and they are trying to get their troubles over, so good luck - and maybe soon, I know someday, my whole family will be together and happy, someday. Ye ha] -

A MAN I'll call Jay says he kneecapped his first joyrider in 1972. 'This wee lad was driving right into town, and he couldn't see over the top of the steering wheel. It was that cheeky. We didn't really kneecap him. We shot him in the arms and legs.'

Jay insists that no personal feelings were involved. 'I still see him the odd time,' he says. 'He gives me a wave.'

Joyriders in English cities risk arrest and, when they lose control of their stolen cars, injury or death. Belfast joyriders, mostly Catholic, mostly from West Belfast, run added risks. They may be killed in encounters with armed police and soldiers: most of the casualties have died at the hands of the security forces or from crashes as they sped from them (two young joyriders died last week in a crash on the Falls Road). But Belfast joyriders also have to reckon with the IRA. Last year the IRA kneecapped 59 people, more than in any other year for a decade. Most were joyriders. More bullets went into the knees, ankles and elbows of teenage Catholic tearaways in West Belfast than into British soldiers, policemen, or loyalists. And this is something the joyriders accept as inevitable. One joyrider, shot recently, says he knows the man - a neighbour - who tucked a revolver in the hinge of his leg and pulled the trigger. 'I wouldn't pass him,' he says. That means: I wouldn't pass him without saying hello. 'He was only doing what he had to do.'

'They are the law,' says another. 'And there's no point in arguing or complaining.' A dozen others say the same thing. They tend to reserve their hostility for the people who report them to the IRA rather than the men sent out to shoot them.

Republicans say they are fighting a war. By doing what they do, joyriders are seen to be making a mockery of that war, fooling about on the battlefield. Joyriders know this. For them, bucking the establishment is bucking the IRA. Joyriders have been known to seek out the IRA, to rev up their cars under the bedroom windows of IRA men in the middle of the night. 'We would beep the horns at them,' says one joyrider, 'and give them the finger.'

Joyriding started in Belfast in the early Seventies. As the phenomenon has intensified, so too has the IRA war against it. Like their other war, it is elegantly rationalised. Ask Republicans why they get involved in this squabble on the street - why they put all this energy into protecting Opel Mantas and BMWs - and they will give one clear answer: they are responding to a demand from the community to come down hard on what they call 'anti-social elements'. It is a policy whose alleged aim is to foster community support. But it is also designed to embarrass Sinn Fein's chief political rival, the SDLP, making it seem soft on crime and supportive of the RUC.

The police are perceived as neglecting the joyriding problem. Offenders say that when they are caught they are frequently offered money and encouraged to serve as informants. Complaints to the the police about stolen cars are often met with a hesitant response, for fear they are part of an IRA lure. In its turn, the IRA has never stopped the joyriders, although it has occasionally terrorised them into laying off for a few weeks at a time. Teenagers are

(Photograph omitted)