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Ulster pastor Christie Buckingham relives firing squad horror as drug trafficker executed

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 01/06/2015

Fighting on: pastor Christie Buckingham
Fighting on: pastor Christie Buckingham

An Ulster-born pastor has told how she comforted a convicted drugs trafficker moments before he was executed by firing squad.

Christie Buckingham accompanied Myuran Sukumaran - one of the Bali Nine - to his death five weeks ago.

Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were ringleaders of the gang caught trying to smuggle millions of dollars' worth of heroin from Indonesia.

They were executed alongside six other prisoners on April 29.

Mrs Buckingham, who is from Portstewart, had befriended both men and comforted Sukumaran in his final minutes.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, she recalled how she led the 34-year-old to the spot where he was killed.

"You were walking them to their certain death. There was no way out of this. You know this is their last moment," she said. "You are the last voice of kindness they will hear, you are the last face that they will see."

The Bali Nine were a group of Australians arrested on the holiday island over a plot to smuggle around A$4m (£2m) of heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

Chan and Sukumaran were executed on April 29, despite last-ditch appeals for clemency.

Other members of the gang were handed prison terms.

Mrs Buckingham, who moved to Australia 27 years ago, is a senior pastor at Bayside Pentecostal Church in Melbourne.

She befriended Chan and Sukumaran after meeting them in prison on a visit to Indonesia four years ago.

After being selected as Sukumaran's spiritual adviser, she accompanied him on his last journey from Kerobokan prison.

Mrs Buckingham described how Chan and Sukumaran sang hymns as they were led to a remote island to be shot dead.

"We got on to the island and said goodbye to the other civilians, the lawyers and so on," she continued.

"Then we were taken off into the dark of night - the spiritual leaders and the military.

"We were each sent to the solitary confinement cell with our prisoner. We had a good 90 minutes with them, before walking them out and taking them down to the killing field."

Mrs Buckingham was present for the final three minutes before the executions. She said Sukumaran's final words were a plea for her to continue to speak out against the death penalty.

"You couldn't see anything except for your prisoner's face, but I could see the green light of the laser beam lining them up," she added.

"I didn't want Myuran to see that, so I lifted my arm.

"They tapped me on the shoulder to go, and I just said 'one minute, one minute'.

"They lined him up underneath my arm."

After some final words of comfort, she was forced to step away to allow the executions to proceed.

"I started singing with him, and they came to me again because I was the last one left and I knew I had to move off," she added. "I said 'Myuran, I'm just going to take a step back, are you OK?' And he said he was.

"I told him to keep singing and that I would see him on the other side, and he replied 'I'll see you on the other side'. I told him I was taking three more steps back, and asked him could he still hear me, and he could.

"I said 'Love you Myuran, I'll see you on the other side'.

"He kept singing.

"There was a sheet of black plastic that they pulled down.

"They were still singing.

"Then the next moment a hundred rifles went off.

"The velocity was such a shock to me. I wasn't expecting the noise of it. It threw my whole body forward. There was a massive noise."

Despite the deaths of Chan and Sukumaran, Mrs Buckingham has pledged her campaign to abolish the death penalty will continue.

She is also providing support to Lindsay Sandiford, a British national facing execution after being caught trying to smuggle £1.6m worth of cocaine into Bali in May 2012.

She said killing someone had no place in modern society.

"The fight has to go on. We're in 2015 and killing someone is never right," she added.

Belfast Telegraph

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