The widow of the first PSNI officer to be murdered by terrorists has spoken of her pride and sadness while preparing to accept a posthumous degree on his behalf.
Heartbroken Kate Carroll and her late husband Stephen (48) had this week been hoping to celebrate the 26th anniversary of when they first met.
Instead, she will today travel with her son Shane to Manchester to accept the academic award Stephen had been working to obtain in order to start a new life outside the police.
But his murder by Continuity IRA gunmen four months ago — which led Northern Ireland back to the brink of civil strife — killed that dream as well.
“Picking up his degree will bring a lot of sadness, tinged with a lot of pride,” 58-year-old Kate told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday.
“They say time heals, but I’ve discovered it only gets worse. The more I don’t see him, the worse I get. I have a photo of Steve by my bedside; I look at it every morning and I talk to him every night.
“It has been 18 weeks and five days since he was killed. I’m counting. These people don’t understand what they’ve done.”
Kate and Stephen, who was born in England, met on July 13, 1983. After three months they began dating, before getting married two years later.
When PC Carroll was shot in the head while going to investigate suspicious activity in Craigavon, he had been planning to leave the force.
The Banbridge-based man’s ambition — so cruelly snatched away — had been to work in rehabilitation, helping stroke and heart attack sufferers.
“Steve had put his life on hold for his degree [in Sport Science],” the grandmother-of-four said.
“I feel really proud to accept it for him, but I would prefer it was him that would’ve lifted it and not me.
“I know I have to accept he is gone. There’s nothing else I can do. That’s the hardest thing.”
Today, Kate — a school domestic who has been unable to return to work since her husband’s death — will make the emotional journey to England with her son, Shane (37), from a previous relationship. They will joined by other family members ahead of a graduation ceremony at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Prof Neil Fowler, head of Exercise & Sport Science, will lead the proceedings at 9.30am tomorrow. A spokeswoman confirmed he will mention Stephen in the speech he makes before the students take to the stage.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, Mr Fowler described Stephen — who was killed just 48 hours after the Real IRA murders of two young soldiers in Antrim — as an “exceptional student”.
“The Board decided to award Stephen with a posthumous degree as we have no doubt that this is what he would have achieved,” he said.
“Stephen was an exceptional student in terms of the contribution he made and his dedication to the course.
“He was such a positive person and the lynchpin of the group, his maturity helping to galvanise them as a team.”
Kate and Shane will receive the award on Stephen's behalf from the University’s Vice-Chancellor John Brooks.