Belfast Telegraph

'I'm horrified someone like Martin McGuinness can really be considered a peacemaker'

Widow of soldier killed in IRA blast 27 years ago says wife of man killed by bomb he was forced to transport is more worthy of award than former Deputy First Minister

By Stephanie Bell

The widow of a soldier killed during one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles said she was stunned and horrified to learn that Martin McGuinness had been nominated for a major peace prize.

Jane Hunter, whose husband Lance Corporal Stephen Burrows was one of five soldiers killed along with Patsy Gillespie in an IRA "proxy" bomb in October 1990, said she doesn't understand how anyone who held the positions McGuinness did in the IRA and Sinn Fein can be considered a peacemaker.

In what remains one of the most heinous attacks of the Troubles, Londonderry man Patsy Gillespie was forced to drive a car bomb into the checkpoint at Coshquin on the main Derry to Buncrana Road while his wife and children were held at gunpoint.

The bomb exploded as he was driving, killing him and the five soldiers.

Last night Mr Burrows' widow Jane (51) said that 26 years later the pain was still acute and the only way she has coped is by becoming a therapist so that she could help others.

She has kept in touch over the years with Mr Gillespie's widow Kathleen, who has devoted herself to working for peace since her husband's brutal murder.

Yesterday's news that McGuinness has been nominated for the 2016 Tipperary International Peace Award left Jane feeling shattered.

She said: "I'm just horrified, it's horrendous."

Jane added that. in her view, given the position McGuinness held in the IRA and Sinn Fein, he is likely to know something about the attack.

"I can't stand the man. I don't even want to look at him. I knew all of the boys; they were all good friends so it wasn't just Stephen I lost, but all of them.

"I see Martin McGuinness as part of an organisation that killed people. The IRA has got the blood of a lot of innocent people on their hands. The soldiers were there to protect people; Stephen was only doing his job.

"I don't understand how anyone who was part of an organisation which thinks it is okay to take another person's life can be considered as a peacemaker. I don't trust him."

Jane and Stephen were married for just four years when he was murdered. It was his third tour of duty in Northern Ireland, and according to Jane he was looking forward to coming here.

She said: "We were in Berlin when he got the news he was going to Northern Ireland. I wasn't happy and I remember he said it was the only place where he got to do the job he was paid to do and he was really looking forward to going. We were there just nine months when he was killed."

Left bereft by her loss, Jane was left alone to bring up their three-year-old son Mark.

Read more

The atrocity has overshadowed both their lives ever since, and growing up Mark struggled to cope with what had happened to his father.

Jane, too, has never got over Stephen's loss and every year attends a memorial for him and his four colleagues - Kgn Paul Worrall, Kgn Stephen Beacham, Kgn Vinny Scott and Kgn David Sweeney.

In the early years after she lost Stephen she says she found a way to cope by going back to university and studying to become a therapist.

Today she works part of the week at the Drug and Alcohol Service in Chester and for the other half as a psychotherapist helping people with all sorts of mental health issues. Her work has brought her into contact with a lot of Army veterans and she has welcomed the chance to do some good for them.

"You do what you can to get by and I wanted to do something to try and make a difference which is why I retrained as a therapist," she said.

"I have helped people with all sorts of issues and many veterans through the alcohol and drugs service. I feel that it is something good to come out of a horrendous situation and that it means Stephen didn't die for nothing.

"I really struggle with all of it. I've done some work at the Warrington Peace Centre, and I really struggled when Martin McGuinness visited it a couple of years ago.

"I've kept in touch with Kathleen Gillespie and she is one of the most inspirational women I have ever met. She is absolutely phenomenal, and if anyone deserves a peace award it is her."

No one was ever caught for the atrocity, and for those like Jane who were left behind the pain continues even 26 years on.

She added: "The pain is still there, it never goes away. I immerse myself in things to help me and to help other people and that has given me some peace. If I can make someone else's journey a little easier then it means some good has come out of this horror."

The Belfast Telegraph contacted Sinn Fein for comment last night but it did not respond.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph