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'I can't rest until my brother's IRA killers are caught' - after 43 years of silence, murdered soldier’s family tell of agony

By Deborah McAleese

Published 14/03/2016

Private Gary Barlow
Private Gary Barlow
Gary Barlow
Gary Barlow's gravestone'

The brother of a young soldier who was mistakenly left behind by his patrol and murdered by the IRA 43 years ago has said he cannot rest until the gunman is brought to justice.

Private Gary Barlow was accidentally separated from his colleagues during a search operation in the notorious Divis flats in west Belfast in March 1973.

A gang of women cornered the terrified 19-year-old in an alleyway before a Provo gunman arrived and shot him dead.

Nobody has ever been charged with his murder.

More than four decades later his younger brother Keith has broken his silence to publicly back calls for a new investigation into the atrocity.

Keith, who was 13 at the time of Gary's death, revealed that three women had tried to help Private Barlow escape before the IRA killer arrived.

He told the Belfast Telegraph that his mother Rona, now 83, is still in touch with one of the women who tried to save her son.

Mr Barlow also revealed that in his brother's last phone call to their mother he told her he liked the people of Northern Ireland and that only "a handful" were bad.

Last week a lobby group of Army veterans who served here during the Troubles asked the Chief Constable to order a fresh investigation into Private Barlow's killing.

"It may have happened 43 years ago but I still want justice for my brother. Something like this never leaves you. It put me over the edge for years. I support these veterans in what they are doing for Gary," said Mr Barlow.

On March 5, 1973, Private Barlow was part of a patrol sent to search Divis flats. When the operation finished the patrol mistakenly left him behind.

"Two women tried to get him out of there. They knew the IRA had been called. But as far as Gary was concerned he hadn't been given an order to leave. At that time he didn't realise he'd been left behind. He refused to abandon his post," said Mr Barlow. "One woman ran down to the (Army) barracks and told them they had left someone behind. At first they didn't believe her. But when they realised, minutes later, it was basically too late. By the time they went back for him he had been shot and was lying dying."

Now 56, Mr Barlow said he will never forget the moment he heard his brother was dead.

"I had a really good relationship with Gary. I could talk to my brother about anything. The family wasn't really worried about him joining the Army, but we weren't too happy about him going to Northern Ireland at that time.

"I remember two policemen coming out to tell us he had been killed. Our lives were just turned upside down," he said.

"I know what was going through my mind at that time. I was thinking that if I had got hold of who did that to Gary then they would have been burying him too.

"We also received a lot of hate mail from Northern Ireland after Gary was killed. For weeks we were getting the most horrible mail."

He added: "I found it very difficult after Gary was killed. It is only the last few years that I have been able to calm down. We received a report from the HET (Historical Enquiries Team), but it didn't tell us anything we didn't already really know.

"I would like to see someone held accountable for Gary's murder. It would help me find some closure. All I want is to see justice."

The lobby group of veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles has asked that the Chief Constable order a fresh murder investigation.

The case was previously reviewed by the HET, but it did not result in any criminal charges.

Former soldier and retired PSNI detective Mike Harmson, a member of the Veterans Lobbying Group, said Private Barlow was "yet another forgotten military victim of the Troubles" who "deserves justice and a proper investigation" into his murder.

Mr Harmson has contacted George Hamilton and Justice Minister David Ford to request the reopening of the case.

His request has been forwarded by Mr Hamilton to Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr, head of the PSNI's crime operations department, to consider.

In 2010 Private Barlow's parents Rona and Jack received the Elizabeth Cross, the decoration which recognises service personnel killed in operations.

He was just 17 when he joined the Army and was only three months away from completing his second tour of duty here with the Queen's Lancashire Regiment when he was killed.

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