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'My boy and Tim Parry died the same day, but nobody remembers Damien'

By Ivan Little

Catholic teenager Damien Walsh died at the hands of loyalist terrorists in west Belfast on the same day that Tim Parry died at the hands of the IRA in Warrington.

But while Tim Parry's name was thrust back into the spotlight of terror after the Manchester Arena bombings this week, few people talked about Damien Walsh. Or even remember him.

"But we'll never forget him," says Damien's mother Marian (63) as she still struggles to cope with the raw emotion of the memories of the day in March 1993 that changed the lives of her entire family for ever.

She says: "Damien was the middle one of my five children and he was extremely boisterous.

"But since he died, my house has gone very quiet. It's like living in a graveyard. With him gone, it's as if everybody died, too."

Damien (17) was shot up to six times in the back by a UFF gunman as he worked late one night on a Youth Training Programme in what was known as the Coal Bunker at the back of a supermarket at the Dairy Farm shopping centre near Twinbrook.

And although 24 years have passed, Mrs Walsh is still trying to establish the truth about the killing, which was admitted by Johnny Adair's ruthless "C" Company within the UFF. In the wake of the murder, there's been a slew of allegations about collusion, informers, Army surveillance teams and cover-ups, but Mrs Walsh is still awaiting a report from the Police Ombudsman about the RUC investigation into the murder of her son, who didn't fit the teenage stereotypes of the 1990s.

He wasn't a sporty type and he would often go bird-watching during the day in Colin Glen forest before engaging in his nocturnal pastime of DJ-ing.

"He was a real character, who was very good at drawing. And he was getting on really well at the Coal Bunker. Everybody knew him and liked him. He'd also just started to discover girls, too.

"It was only later on that I found out that he shouldn't have been working that night, but changed shifts so that he could take a girl to the cinema the next evening," says Mrs Walsh, who was told about the shooting by two people who witnessed the attack and rushed to her house in Poleglass.

"The police never came near me. But I went straight to the City Hospital with the two strangers who came to my door."

At the hospital Mrs Walsh found information hard to come by. She feared the worst, but hoped that maybe the victim wasn't her son, though she didn't wish ill on anyone else.

"Eventually, the staff took me to the relatives' room and that rang alarm bells, because I'd worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital and I knew that you only went there if things were bad.

"They told me I couldn't see Damien, because the doctors were working on him. I was praying that he would pull through and then I heard that he'd had the Last Rites and my whole world fell apart.

"I'd been screaming that I wanted to see Damien, but my parish priest blocked the door. It was terrible. I eventually got up the corridor and I was crying."

In her innocence Mrs Walsh thought she would have to take Damien home there and then, but a nurse said they would look after him and get an undertaker.

"It was then that I realised I would have to tell my other children what had happened and I got a lift home.

"It was awful telling them. It's still with me.

"The police rang and asked me to go to Woodburn barracks to give a statement, but my brother told them they should be coming to see me.

"They didn't arrive until 48 hours later, when they wanted to know if there would be paramilitary trappings with the funeral, which was ridiculous, but Damien was never involved with anything like that."

In the years since Damien died, it's been confirmed that the Army did have the Dairy Farm complex under observation, because an IRA informer had passed on information about an arms dump in a different part of the centre from where Damien was working. Yet despite the Army operation, the killers were able to get to and from Dairy Farm without challenge and Mrs Walsh says she has been told that an erroneous description of the gunmen's car was circulated in the aftermath of the attack.

Police sources say they know the identity of the killers, but didn't have enough evidence to put them behind bars.

Mrs Walsh says that just months after Damien's murder, the IRA shot dead one of their former members, Joe Mulhern, who they claimed was a tout. His killing now forms part of the investigation into the activities of the double agent, Freddie Scappaticci, aka "Stakeknife".

Mrs Walsh's grief has been compounded by the fact that the Police Ombudsman still won't give her the report into Damien's killing.

She says:"I don't know what the hold-up is, but maybe it's because of all the intrigue involved in the case. I may have to go to court to force the Ombudsman's hand."

It's been alleged that the security forces colluded with the killers who dumped their getaway car in the Andersonstown area, an unusual move for the UFF who had stolen the vehicle in the Shankill.

After news broke about the Manchester bombing and the deaths of so many children and young people, Mrs Walsh says she couldn't help thinking back to the day of Damien's passing.

She says: "That was the same day that Tim Parry passed away from the injuries he sustained five days earlier in the Warrington blast, which was shocking, too.

"At Damien's funeral Mass, we prayed for Tim and the other boy who was killed, Johnathan Ball.

"There were planeloads of flowers sent to Warrington from Dublin. But I got nothing from anywhere.

"It was just such a marked difference."

Damien Walsh's uncle, Dr Sean Loughlin, a university professor in Rotherham, echoed Mrs Walsh's sentiments in a letter to newspapers at the time, saying: "The purpose of this letter is not to score points, but to make a point: every single life is precious".

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