Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Enniskillen Bomb: 'I still have nightmares ... I wake up and ask where my dad is and try to find him'

Published 07/11/2016

Enduring anguish : Stephen Gault holds a picture of his father Samuel, who was killed in the Enniskillen bomb
Enduring anguish : Stephen Gault holds a picture of his father Samuel, who was killed in the Enniskillen bomb
Never forgotten: Stephen at the Enniskillen Cenotaph
Stephen Gault with his mother Gladys at his father’s funeral
Terrorist outrage: the aftermath of the Enniskillen Bomb in 1987

Ahead of the 29th anniversary of the Enniskillen Bombing tomorrow, Cate McCurry speaks to Stephen Gault, whose father died in the atrocity.

Q. Both of your parents, Samuel and Gladys, worked in the security forces. How did that affect your life growing up in Enniskillen?

A. My dad was a sergeant in the RUC and my mum was a sergeant in the UDR. My parents tried to keep our lives as normal as they could but with terrorist threats they had to be very vigilant.

I lived in a mixed area and my best friends were Catholic but we had to be very wary of people asking about my dad's job. I always said he was a milkman.

We were careful about where we went in the town and avoided the parts my parents called no-go areas. I used to get a lot of taunts from other Protestant kids because I had friends who were Catholics.

We didn't just run out and jump in to the car either, we had to wait until mum or dad checked it was safe first. We had to wait as dad walked around the car from a distance and make sure no one was there waiting to ambush him.

I was born into that so it was normal.

Q. What kind of relationship did you have with your dad when you were growing up?

A. In my early years I didn't see him very often because of his job. I saw more of him when he took early retirement in 1985 because he suffered a heart attack.

We grew very close during those 18 months from when he retired until he died.

Terrorist outrage: the aftermath of the Enniskillen Bomb in 1987
Terrorist outrage: the aftermath of the Enniskillen Bomb in 1987

My memories after his retirement is of him teaching me to drive and after I passed my test I would always want to drive the car.

Dad would sit in the back and read the paper.

He also wanted to start golf too but he never got the chance to do so.

He took great pride in his garden and tended to it every day.

He also volunteered with the Red Cross and did the meals on wheels.

Q. Tomorrow is the 29th anniversary of your father's death. How do you feel in the days leading up to the anniversary?

Stephen Gault with his mother Gladys at his father’s funeral
Stephen Gault with his mother Gladys at his father’s funeral

A. People say time is a great healer but I find that it's not.

My mum is dead nine years after dying from cancer, and I have come to terms with her death as it was through natural causes but to have my father murdered at a young age while standing beside me is hard.

Every anniversary doesn't get easier. I usually go into a dip, particularly with my health.

Once it's my dad's anniversary then a few weeks later is my mum's.

It's particularly hard as we don't have justice for the murders, maybe if we had closure then we could move on. I was only 18 and to lose a parent at that age in traumatic circumstances is very difficult to deal with.

Q. How will you mark the anniversary tomorrow?

A. It's a day I'll wake up knowing this time 29 years ago my father was murdered.

It's especially hard when it gets closer to 10.43am (the time the bomb went off) - it brings back a lot of painful memories.

I always lay a wreath for my father and the 11 others who were murdered.

Some of us then go on to the Church of Ireland in Enniskillen for a remembrance service.

Last year was one of the toughest be,cause November 8 fell on Remembrance Sunday and I kept looking at my watch thinking this is getting closer to the time.

My mind was going back more than it usually would.

Memories kept flooding back, I kept looking to where the bomb was planted imagining the building falling the way it did. You visualise the exact time it erupted and the aftermath.

Q. What are your memories of that day?

A. The day before the bomb my father bought me a leather jacket and I wanted to wear it to the Remembrance service.

My mum didn't want me to wear it as she thought it was inappropriate. But she gave in and it ultimately saved my life because the padding protected me.

My dad and me were standing at the cenotaph and he met a lot of friends and ex-colleagues and there was a lot of chat.

Before it went off a policeman walked past and said hello to dad and I turned around and asked who it was and I never got the answer.

That's the last thing I said to my dad.

I never heard the bomb going off, even though people heard it miles away.

I remember coming round and not being able to move.

At first there was an eerie silence, then suddenly the noise erupted.

The building was still falling around me. I was buried to my knees. I saw my dad lying close to me and I knew right away that he was dead as his head was gone from above his eye-line.

Two soldiers came and pulled me out and I walked about in a daze with blood running out of my head.

My brother, his wife and baby were supposed to meet us but they were running late.

They got held up 200 yards away from the cenotaph as they bumped into someone they knew.

My mum was helping out in the church that morning and after the bomb someone told her that I was dead and dad was alive.

But I somehow made my way to the church and as soon as she saw me she thought the information was wrong. She then went looking for dad in the hospital but she never found him because he was in the mortuary.

I saw at least six people who were dead, they all had coats over them.

They were like rag dolls lying on the road. That's something I will never forget.

Q. What injuries did you suffer as a result of the bomb?

A. I was one of the lucky ones. I had severe lacerations to the back of my head, I still have a piece of rubble above my eye that's embedded. I had 24 stitches in the back of my head.

My injuries were delayed as I developed psoriasis two weeks after the bomb and six years after that I was told I had arthritis.

I have had several surgeries on my right arm. I had my right wrist taken out last year and replaced with a metal bar.

I suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) until this day.

I wake up with nightmares which relates back to the bomb.

When I wake up from the nightmare I always ask where is my dad and try to look for him.

Q. What impact did you father's death have on the family?

A. We were all in shock immediately afterwards. But I remembering leaving the hospital that day and my brother was driving us home.

My mum made him stop the car and she said "listen you pair, I don't want you going out and getting involved in anything. It's not what your father would have wanted".

Those words have stuck with me. But I would be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind in the immediate weeks and months after the bomb that someone will have to pay for what happened.

But our upbringing knocked that on its head. We didn't want revenge but it's very tough when you see certain people. We have ideas of who was involved.

Q. How have your injuries impacted on your life?

A. I stopped working in 2007, just before I turned 40. I had worked in an electronics factory and also completed the teaching profession to teach golf but I had to give that up as my health deteriorated.

I may look okay but every day I'm in immense pain with the arthritis in my back.

Q. Did you ever get compensation?

A. I got very, very little. We took the compensation offered to us in 1988, it's pittance compared to what you would get now. I think my mother was offered £1,000.

Q. You're involved with the local justice campaigns groups - tell me about that?

A. I am involved with the Ely Centre, which was set up after the Enniskillen bomb.

But whether we get anything out of justice groups, I don't know.

You feel at times you're banging your head on a brick wall.

We were promised a report from the HET (Historical Enquiries Team) and on four occasions we were told it wouldn't be coming out.

We feel very much let-down by the police service. They say there's no evidence from the bomb, but I believe it's because of who was involved and who knew about the bomb and the peace process that's holding it up.

People are telling us to move on but they are the people who didn't witness what I did. Until we get justice I don't think we can fully move on in this country.

Q. Last year a Westminster committee heard claims that a senior investigator wanted to question Martin McGuinness over the Enniskillen bomb, but was prevented from doing so by the Northern Ireland Office, how did you feel about that?

A. I was disgusted, but not surprised because the British Government wants to protect the peace process.

It makes me sick knowing the HET had the opportunity to interview him and was prevented.

Q. The victims' families were told by senior police last year that no one was working on the Enniskillen bomb case, tell me about that.

A. When we met the legacy branch in Enniskillen police station we were told that out of the 55 officers working on legacy cases, 23 police officers were working on Bloody Sunday.

When asked about the Enniskillen case they said no officers were working on it. We always thought someone was working on it.

We were told six months ago that the Enniskillen case is closed.

I have lost all hope of getting justice. It's all about protection. That's the price we pay for the peace process.

Q. Do you feel like victims of the Enniskillen bomb have been forgotten about?

A. They (the Government) are waiting for us to give up the fight, that's what they want us to do.

But justice needs to be served to close the final chapter. The family members are being sacrificed for peace.

Q. Your wife, Sharon, is a Catholic from Co Cork. Has her religious background ever caused issues?

A. I met Sharon in 2003 and we were married in April 2005. Her religion didn't change how I felt about her.

When I found out she was Catholic there was a very small part of me that thought, 'what will the family think?'

But my family said they don't care what religion she was, as long as she looked after me.

Sharon always wanted to walk down the aisle in St Michael's in Enniskillen on her wedding day, but she thought it is not going to be appropriate so we decided to get married in the Church of Ireland in Rossory.

We had a priest and reverend who married us as we wanted to keep it equal. She gave up her dream of walking down the aisle of her own church and I have to admire that.

Q. The tribute to the Enniskillen bomb was removed from the fire station in Enniskillen after one anonymous complaint, how did that feel?

A. The original tribute never went back up, but it has been replaced with a different one.

The new one includes an image of the cenotaph after the bomb went off, showing firemen working to get my dad out of the rubble.

I didn't want that going up, however it remains there to this day.

The same thing happened in the ambulance station, one phone call and it came down.

Belfast Telegraph

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph