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PM's move as married UDR widows battle to get pensions restored

By Rebecca Black

Published 09/05/2016

Serena Hamilton today
Serena Hamilton today
David Graham
Eileen Johnston (centre), widow of David Graham, with daughter Serena Hamilton and granddaughter Danielle visiting his grave

UDR widows in Northern Ireland who were stripped of their military pension after remarrying have welcomed the interest the Prime Minister has taken in their case.

Across the UK, 250 women are in a similar position because they married again between 1973 and 2005.

David Cameron has agreed to a meeting with Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland to discuss the situation.

The Leeds MP is representing his constituent Susan Rimmer, who lost her first husband to a terrorist bomb here in 1972, when she was just 19 and pregnant.

Her war widow's pension was stopped when she remarried.

Mr Mulholland told the House of Commons that this was a "disgraceful way to treat those who have lost loved ones serving our country", and requested a meeting.

Mr Cameron responded: "I'll make sure that Susan Rimmer gets the meeting and attention she deserves.

"We'll continue to look at this issue, but at the moment we are of the view, of the longstanding policy of successive governments, that we shouldn't make these changes and apply them retrospectively."

Innocent Victims United spokesman Kenny Donaldson said his group will work with Mr Mulholland and the UK campaign to ensure if there is movement, UDR widows also benefit.

He has accused the Ministry of Defence of "negating its moral responsibilities to military families".

"We welcome the commitment given by the Prime Minister to meet with widows affected," he said.

"We will be striving to connect the local campaign for UDR widows with the wider campaign of Army widows across the UK.

"There has been an assumption on their part that if a widow remarried that they're somehow going to be 'kept' by their new husband and have all of their financial needs taken care of.

"That's not how the world works; there are cases where a widow's second husband has disablements which prevented him from working and other cases where the widow's second husband is solely dependent on State benefits.

"But aside from this, there is a fundamental point that none of this should actually factor.

"Widows who remarry do not forget their first husbands, they continue to grieve alongside the children who they may have created together, they continue to honour their memory and many are very actively involved in campaigning for justice, truth and accountability around the circumstances of their murder."

There was a successful campaign a number of years ago to restore pensions to RUC widows who had remarried.

Lagan Valley DUP MLA Brenda Hale, herself a military widow after her husband Captain Mark Hale was killed in Afghanistan, said the MoD's stance "defies both decency and common sense".

She has specifically backed Eileen Johnston, a Northern Ireland woman whose husband, a UDR member, was murdered by the IRA in 1977.

Ms Johnston lost her widow's pension when she remarried.

Mrs Hale said: "When anyone puts on a uniform to serve and protect our community, just as Cpl David Graham did, then they and their family deserve to be properly treated by the State.

"The changes introduced last year, which allow (RUC) widows to keep their pensions even after remarriage, were a common sense step, but there are a small number of people like Mrs Johnston still being shamefully treated.

"The MoD must act in this and other similar cases to properly recognise the families who are left behind."

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