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Murder victim James Hughes was real life hero, priest tells mourners

By Sophie Inge

Published 15/11/2016

Family and friends at the funeral of James Hughes, including his brother Michael, back right, help carry his coffin at St Peter’s in Belfast yesterday
Family and friends at the funeral of James Hughes, including his brother Michael, back right, help carry his coffin at St Peter’s in Belfast yesterday
James Hughes
Former professional boxing champion Eamonn Magee comforts Michael
Former heavyweight boxing champion, Martin Rogan

A murder victim once saved the life of a man who had fallen under a train, mourners at his funeral heard yesterday.

Hundreds gathered to pay their final respects to former nursing home manager James Hughes.

The body of Mr Hughes (62) was discovered in his flat on the 14th floor of Divis Tower in west Belfast on Sunday, November 6, after the alarm was raised by a member of the public.

Speaking at a Requiem Mass at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, Fr Martin Graham said: "James was a larger than life character and he had a generosity of spirit that knew no bounds.

"Many people in this congregation today will have been recipients of that generosity. If I was to ask for a hands-up from anyone who has a little trinket, a book, a card that James gave you, I could imagine we would see a sea of hands in the air."

The son of Joe and Margaret Hughes, Mr Hughes had trained as a psychiatric nurse in London and his last job was as the manager of a nursing home.

"Others would have seen people broken by illness or the advance of years; James saw human beings with unused talents and skills, and he set about discovering what those talents and skills were," Fr Graham said.

"The nursing home was transformed into a hive of activity as the residents grew their own fruit and vegetables and helped prepare their own meals.

"He gave them a purpose in life and they loved him for it. His determination to change things for the better was often at odds with a system that found it easier, as he perceived it, to keep people sedated and quiet and out of the way."

The congregation was told how Mr Hughes had saved the life of a man who had fallen under a train. "The man's arm was partially severed and, while everyone else ran, James, without a second thought, jumped on to the track, put a tourniquet on the wound to stem the flow of blood and accompanied the man to the hospital in the ambulance and didn't leave him until his family arrived," the priest said.

No one knew a thing about this, he said, until his flatmate answered a knock at the door one night from a man delivering a bravery certificate for James, in recognition of his actions.

"Typically James couldn't understand why he should be getting an award just for helping someone in need.

"Like the Good Samaritan, James was passing by and immediately went to that man's aid. It was his natural reaction to someone in need." The priest added: "The stress and strain of making these people be heard and seen cost James his own mental health."

Friends have also paid tribute to Mr Hughes, describing him as a "harmless big guy".

John Leathem, chairman of the Divis and Falls Residents' Association explained: "James was a gentleman - he was eccentric in his way, but he wouldn't have done you any harm."

Mr Hughes is the second in his family to die tragically.

In 1974 his older brother Joseph was killed, aged 22, by a roadside bomb as he returned from tending cattle on the family's smallholding at Hannahstown, Co Antrim.

James Devine (42), also a resident of Divis Tower, has been charged with James Hughes's murder.

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