Belfast Telegraph

PSNI widow defends victim statements

By Deborah McAleese

A chance for victims to share with the courts how they have been affected by crime is an important part of the Northern Ireland justice system, PSNI widow Kate Carroll has said.

Mrs Carroll, whose husband Stephen was shot dead by dissident republican terrorists in 2009, defended the justice system here after the parents of 21-year-old Colin McGinty, who was stabbed to death in 2001 in Merseyside, overheard a judge in England saying victim statements made "no difference". But Mrs Carroll said she believes that the judiciary takes victim impact statements very seriously when deliberating on a case.

The McGinty case made headlines again this week after the victim's parents, Geraldine and Peter, said they have now discovered that their son's killers have been recommended for moves to open prisons.

However, Mrs Carroll said she believed that in Northern Ireland, victim impact statements are treated with importance by the justice system.

"For me, it really helped," she said. "I found it cathartic getting my feelings written down and having them relayed to the defendants.

It helped being able to tell people how we had been affected as a family."

Mrs Carroll's powerful statement said: "I feel that I have not only had my soul mate, best friend and future taken away from me, but I did not even get a chance to say goodbye properly.

"Stephen was my life and religion and losing him was heartbreaking, gut-wrenching."

Judge Lord Justice Paul Girvan told the court: "No person with any sense of humanity or compassion could fail to be moved by seeing or reading of the devastation visited because self-appointed executioners decided that they are entitled to sacrifice a life in furtherance of terrorist goals," he said.

The Lord Chief Justice's Office insisted that the "impact of the offence on the victim, and on society as a whole, will always be a relevant factor in the sentencing process."

"The judiciary considers that victim impact statements form an essential part of that sentencing process," a spokeswoman said.

However, the family of Tony Robin (44), stabbed to death in Belfast by his girlfriend in 2009, said they felt victim impact statements "seemed to be of no interest".

They had submitted five victim impact statements, but felt they were of no interest to the judge, as he misquoted from them.

Background

Stephen Carroll was the first PSNI officer to be killed. He was shot dead as he attended a 999 call-out at Craigavon, Co Armagh. The attack was later claimed by Continuity IRA. John Paul Wootton and Brendan McConville were convicted of the murder. Both were jailed for life. The Director of Public Prosecutions appealed the leniency of their sentences, resulting in Wootton's minimum term being increased from 14 to 18 years. McConville's 25-year sentence was unchanged.

'His pyjamas are still under his pillow, I keep his hairbrush to remember his scent' - PSNI widow Kate Carroll’s moving letter to a judge

The night my loving husband of 25 years was brutally murdered was the night my life turned into a living hell. Every single day since Monday, March 9, 2009 my life has been an excruciating torture.

I will never be able to describe fully the emotions I have felt since the night the love of my life was maliciously taken from me, I have been completely lost without my Steve and since then have suffered palpations, recurrent flashbacks and frequent nightmares.

My son and I have been subjected to chronic depression, a first in our family, which has been so debilitating for us both.

I feel that I have not only had my soul mate, best friend and future taken away from me but I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye properly. Steve was my life and my religion and losing him was gut-wrenching, heart-breaking and utterly devastating.

For months and years since, I have felt survivor's guilt; why Steve? Why not me? I wanted to die with him. My life has been shattered since that dreadful night and I have experienced every horrific emotion imaginable since I lost one of the most precious people in my life.

I felt like someone was sitting on my chest, a pressure that could not be alleviated. Every Christmas, birthdays, Valentine's Day, anniversaries of both our wedding and his death have been the most torturous days of my life; moreover, no one can hate Mondays as much as I do.

Furthermore, the shock of losing my beloved husband has never left my mind. As I write this statement his pyjamas are still placed under his pillow, I still have his hairbrush which reminds me daily of his scent. I frequently watch DVDs of our wonderfully happy memories together and he still lives on in our home in photographs of us and music that reminds me of him. In my mind and heart, there is not a day, a minute or second goes by that I don't think of how wonderful he was and how much I truly miss him.

The trial was an horrific and extremely heart-wrenching experience for me, causing more sleepless nights of worry about the battle for justice. I had never imagined how torturous an ordeal it would be. It hurt so much to see the two accused smirking at each other, completely disrespectful. Their lack of remorse was blatantly obvious. There were quite a number of incidents during those excruciating 10 weeks which made me feel physically sick. Although I appeared calm, I was at times shaking from anxiety and revulsion.

Our lives have been totally ruined by the actions of two people and, in my opinion they should be made an example of - to deter their cohorts and potential new recruits for their indoctrination. Every police officer has a family, friends and people who love them dearly; every murdered police officer leaves behind a group of shattered, devastated and inconsolable individuals. My Steve was not an exception.

I have had a life sentence imposed upon me and I will never be able to see, touch or speak to the man I loved so much. Our meticulously planned retirement, his utmost dedication during his 24 years as a member of the police service and his six years of hard work on his degrees have all been ruthlessly taken away from us both and I feel personally cheated.

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