John Proctor finally has justice for dad he never got chance to know
Published 29/11/2013 | 14:11
It should have been the happiest week of their lives. Little Johnnie junior was born on September 9, 1981. Just five days later his doting father was shot dead.
Constable John Proctor – Johnnie to his family – had been visiting June, his wife of four years, frequently at the maternity wing of the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt.
On September 14 the father-of-two arrived around 6.45pm and was pleased to get staying with his family for longer than was usually allowed, remarking to another new father that he was surprised they hadn't been chased out earlier "because Sister Woods had been on duty".
He left the hospital at around 8.50pm.
June vividly remembers walking out of the ward with her husband and waiting at a window to exchange a final farewell. She lingered at the window in the hope of seeing him drive past on the way home.
Instead, she heard the terrifying sound of gunshots.
"I heard the gunshots and I knew it was him," she said.
"I knew Johnnie was dead because I heard the number of shots they put in him. It wasn't just one shot – they riddled him, I knew Johnnie's life was over."
He had been a reserve RUC officer for just 18 months before he was killed.
Previously he had served with the Ulster Defence Regiment.
Earlier on the day of his murder he had served as a pall bearer at the funeral of his friend Alan Clarke, a UDR soldier who had been shot dead by the IRA in Maghera two days before.
South Derry was one of the most infamous parts of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, known for the ruthlessness of the terrorists who operated there, including Dominic 'Mad Dog' McGlinchey. Tensions were particularly high at the time due to the republican hunger strike in which 10 prisoners died.
Derry INLA man Michael Devine (27) was the 10th and last republican hunger striker to die at the Maze Prison in August 1981; Thomas McElwee (23), from Tamlaghtduff in south Derry, died just before him.
On September 7, 19-year-old RUC officer Stuart Montgomery was killed while on patrol in Pomeroy, while in July Protestant civilian John Hazlett (43) was shot dead by the IRA in Maghera.
June said her family circle were terrified that her Johnnie could be next, but said they were shocked that the IRA would have struck again so quickly.
She said: "We were on all eggshells, but I never thought they would strike again so soon."
The south Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA said in 1981 that it had killed Mr Proctor as part of its effort to intensify its campaign against the police and Army.
Before this week, no one had ever been convicted of the murder. June said it had been a long 32 years, but that the family had stuck together and remained hopeful that one day justice would be done.
Tragically, it came too late for constable Proctor's mother, who died just a few years ago.
"Johnnie's murder took the life out of all of us," she said.
"But, as a family, we stood together, we have been strong and we waited patiently.
"Our day has come.
"I am ecstatic that we have finally got justice, 32 years on."
June also hit out at Attorney General John Larkin's recent comments calling for an effective amnesty for all those who took part in the Troubles.
"Hopefully other families like ours will get justice too, no matter what Larkin seems to think," she said.
Even the prospect of Kearney only serving two years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement could not dim June's joy at the conviction.
"Well, he'll not get his Christmas dinner and we will," she said defiantly.
Also among family and friends in court yesterday was Johnnie jnr, who bears a striking resemblance to the father that he never got the chance to know.
Now 32 years old, he is seven years older than his father was when he was killed. He said he was glad the family could now have some closure and justice.
"I never got to meet my father," he said. "It's so sad that I never got to meet the man that brought me into the world."