Belfast Telegraph

My son had so much to offer, says murdered police officer's mother

Nuala Kerr urges public to ‘stand up and be counted’

By Claire McNeilly

The devastated mother of a policeman murdered in a car bomb has urged other Catholics not to be put off from joining the PSNI.

Constable Ronan Kerr was killed in Omagh on Saturday when a device blew up under his vehicle as he left to go to work.

Neighbours tried to help the stricken officer after hearing the explosion, but his car burst into flames and he was trapped inside.

Eyewitnesses said a number of people desperately fought to extinguish the fire before tending to the mortally-wounded policeman, who died at the scene.

Yesterday, as others were celebrating Mother’s Day, grieving Nuala Kerr paid a heartfelt tribute to her 25-year-old son.

“He was a wonderful son and brother, always had a smile and a helping hand for everyone,” she said.

“It's a sad day for our community. Ronan was a valued member and he had so much to offer.

“This is at a time when we are striving for a neutral police force for the good of our country, and I urge all Catholic members not to be deterred.

“We all need to stand up and be counted and to strive for equality. We don't want to go back into the dark days again of fear and terror.”

Constable Kerr, who was originally from Beragh, Co Tyrone, died outside the house he shared with two friends — two miles away from the scene of the Omagh bomb in 1998.

That atrocity killed 29 men, women and children and put the Co Tyrone town on the world map for all the wrong reasons.

Constable Kerr's identity had been withheld until his brother, Cathair, who was en route from Australia, could be informed, although it is understood he discovered via the social networking site Facebook that Ronan had been killed.

Yesterday, Cathair posted a tribute to his brother on the micro-blogging website Twitter.

It read: “Ronan Kerr — Rest in Peace my beloved brother. The best brother anyone could wish for. I hope dad is there to meet you at heaven’s gates.”

A close family friend described Ronan’s death as a “nightmare scenario” for the family, who lost husband and father, Brian, two years ago to cancer.

Ulster Unionist councillor Ross Hussey added: “They are coming to terms with it as best they can under the circumstances.”

Last night, no-one had been arrested in connection with the incident and the police appealed for the public to come forward with information. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the car bomb attack, although there are reports that it was masterminded by a gang of former Provisional IRA activists.

Senior security sources said the group, which is based in east Tyrone and comprises local Real IRA members, operates almost as a freelance outfit.

A minute's silence was held in Constable Kerr's memory at a Tyrone GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) match on Sunday, as he was a keen Tyrone fan and GAA member.

A wake for Constable Kerr is under way and the funeral is expected to take place in the next couple of days.

Nuala Kerr’s statement in full

“On behalf of myself, Ronan's mum, his two brothers Cathair and Aaron and loving sister Dairine we would like to pay a special tribute to Ronan.

“He was a wonderful son and brother, always had a smile and a helping hand for everyone. He had all the attributes of a great police officer — fair, empathetic, intelligent, humourous, a great communicator and loyal to all who knew him. And he just loved his work.

“I would like to appeal to the wider public for any information, no matter how small, about this callous crime.

“Someone knows something. Would you please come forward and do the right thing so justice can be done.

“It's a sad day for our community. Ronan was a valued member and he had so much to offer. This is at a time when we are striving for a neutral police force for the good of our country and I urge all Catholic members not to be deterred by this. We all need to stand up and be counted and to strive for equality.

“We don't want to go back into the dark days again of fear and terror. We were so proud of Ronan and all that he stood for. Don't let his death be in vain.”

Bomb ‘could have been underneath the car for days’

The booby-trap bomb that claimed the life of a 25-year-old police officer could have been under his car for days before it detonated, it has emerged.

Constable Ronan Kerr, who had joined the police just under a year ago, was killed in the explosion outside his Omagh home on Saturday afternoon in an atrocity that bore all the hallmarks of a dissident republican attack.

The blast happened at Highfield Close, off the Gortin Road, just before 4pm as Constable Kerr was heading to work.

He is only the second PSNI officer to die at the hands of republican terrorists, following the murder of Stephen Carroll just over two years ago.

Prominent Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt last night said the young officer had not used his Ford Mondeo for around 48 hours leading up to the fatal explosion.

“The bomb could have been there for a couple of days,” said Mr Spratt. “Constable Kerr hadn’t used the vehicle, as we understand it, because he was car-sharing, so it had been sitting outside the house.

“That means neighbours’ lives could also have been endangered for up to 48 hours before the bomb went off.”

Mr Spratt added: “It is a dangerous time for police officers.

“Over the past couple of months the threat has been severe and it has been leading to something.”

In the hour before the blast — which took place just two miles from the site of the 1998 Omagh bomb in which 29 people died — 2,000 runners who had been taking part in a half marathon passed just yards from the murdered officer's car.

Constable Kerr, a Catholic originally from Beragh, Co Tyrone, joined the police in May 2010 and had been working in the community since December.

The murder comes just days after it was announced that the force's controversial 50-50 recruitment policy, introduced 12 years ago to boost the number of Catholics joining the PSNI, was to be scrapped.

In a press conference yesterday, Chief Constable Matt Baggott said the attack was carried out by a “potent and dangerous minority”.

Mr Baggott, who visited the Kerrs at their Beragh home on Saturday evening after the attack, said they expressed their “deepest pride” in Ronan.

United in condemnation, Catholics and Protestants, unionists and republicans have all said that they hope this killing will be the last.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams called on the perpetrators of the brutal killing to “stop and stop now”.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Michael died in the Omagh bomb, said it “just plunges everybody back”.

Dissident republicans have been spearheading a plan to |wreck the peace process by |targeting young Catholic police officers.

Since 2007, dissident republicans have planted several booby-trap bombs under the private cars of police officers.

Most bombs have failed to detonate, but in January 2010 Constable Peadar Heffron (33) was seriously injured and subsequently lost a leg when a bomb exploded under his car.



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