Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

A tale of two mothers and the grief that never ends

Eamonn McCann, Belfast Telegraph

What, I wonder, did Peter McBride's mother feel as a deluge of sympathy for the Travers family swamped the local media?

The agony of Ann Travers at the news of the appointment to a position at Stormont of one of those involved in the despicable murder in 1984 of her 23-year-old sister, Mary, was palpable and painful to observe.

Where was the morality in bringing a woman convicted of such an offence into employment in the public service?

In the minds of many people, the public response of senior Sinn Fein officials seemed chillingly cold-hearted. Calls for the cancellation of Mary McArdle's appointment came from all other parts of the political spectrum.

The Travers family will have understood more keenly than most the depth of the distress of Jean McBride at the murder of her son, Peter (19), by Mark Wright and James Fisher in September 1992 in the New Lodge area of north Belfast and the further scourging of her heart when the killers were taken back into public service with the Scots Guards regiment.

Peter was coming back from the shop with a pint of milk when he was stopped and searched by a Scots Guards patrol. They found nothing.

But when Peter took to his heels after the search, he was shot in the back and seriously wounded.

He fell across a car and then on to the ground and was shot again in the back where he lay.

In 1995, Wright and Fisher were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The trial judge, Lord Justice Kelly, was scathing about the two men's evidence, saying that Fisher had "deliberately lied" and that both defendants had been "untruthful and evasive".

An appeal against the men's conviction was turned down by the High Court and then by the House of Lords.

In the immediate aftermath of the failure of the appeal, the Daily Mail launched a campaign for the men's release.

The campaign was backed by a number of prominent figures, including BBC presenter Ludovic Kennedy and Independent MP Martin Bell and by parliamentarians including the Conservative peer Lord Tebbit and former Labour Northern Ireland Secretary Merlyn Rees.

The two men were freed on licence in 1998 by the then Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam. Mrs McBride made it plain that, in the context of the release of paramilitary prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement, her family didn't object.

What she was to object to was that the convicted men were then welcomed back into their regiment.

In November 1998, an Army board endorsed the return of the pair to the ranks. The board included John Spellar MP, then an armed forces minister, later a minister at the NIO. Fisher was later promoted to lance corporal.

The men's commanding officer at the time of the murder, Colonel Tim Spicer, declared himself "absolutely delighted" that they were back with their regiment.

Their jailing in the first place, he said, had been "absolutely disgraceful".

On the night of the killing, he recalled for the Army board, "It was my inclination that they should be rearmed, re-zero their rifles and return to the streets."

Martin Bell said that a refusal to reinstate would have been "inconceivable". Ulster Unionist Party security spokesman, Ken Maginnis declared himself "absolutely delighted".

Nationalist politicians took a contrary view. Sinn Fein suggested that the Army board's decision showed "a blatant disregard" for Peter McBride's life. Belfast Lord Mayor Martin Morgan of the SDLP barred Spellar - now at the NIO - from the City Hall parlour.

In April 2003, Wright, now with the Irish Guards, was shot in the wrist in a 'friendly-fire' incident in Basra in southern Iraq. After prolonged physiotherapy, doctors decided that he would never be able to fire a gun again. He was discharged from the Army on medical grounds.

Wright's wife, Louise, told the Daily Record: "Mark wanted to stay in the Army, but the physician said he would never be able . . . to shoot a weapon again.

"He was devastated. All he ever wanted to do was serve his country . . . I am proud of him."

In relation to the killing of Peter McBride, Louise quoted her husband: "What happened in Ireland will affect Mark for the rest of his life.

"It's always in the back of his mind."

She added: "Mark says, even if he had been more experienced, he would have made the same decision."

James Fisher is still a serving soldier. Jean McBride continues to grieve.

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