Belfast Telegraph

Another Christmas Day, another empty chair at the festive dining table

Seven months ago, the PSNI said it would study George Larmour's book about his brother's murder. Since then, he says here, he's had only silence

It's that magical time of year again. Mums and dads are frantically scurrying from shop to shop in the remaining days, loading up with last-minute Christmas gifts; aunts, uncles and children all filled with anticipation at what Santa might bring them for being good again this year.

However, for many families, the cheery festive season of goodwill can be a difficult time, tinged with mixed emotions.

The traditional gifts of thick woollen socks, or comfy slippers, will still not cushion the blow, or soften their pain, as they remember their loved ones who were murdered during our casually referred-to Troubles.

Even many years later, the empty chairs at Christmas tables in many homes throughout the country are a heartbreaking, constant reminder of those so callously taken from them by people with hate in their hearts.

"To the living, we owe respect, but to the dead, we owe only the truth." That is a quote written by the French philosopher Voltaire in the 1700s that I included in my book, They Killed The Ice Cream Man, based on my numerous personal letters to those in authority over the years, searching for the truth about the murder of my brother, John, on October 11, 1988.

Sadly, too many victims' families have been shown very little respect. And, for many, the truth they crave and deserve and were continually promised remains buried along with those they continue to miss every day.

None of us was born evil. That fact is borne out by the title of my book. It is based on the poem The Ice Cream Man, written by the poet Michael Longley for his young daughter.

She didn't see my brother as an off-duty policeman, someone to hate, someone who deserved to die. In her childhood innocence, she was upset and couldn't understand why anyone would want to kill the ice cream man.

Sadly, some men lost the 'being good' innocence of their Santa-loving childhoods and, as adults, decided that killing the ice cream man was justified in their twisted, blood-stained logic and disregard for life.

I wrote my story to ensure that my brother, John, and what happened to him is not just another easily forgotten statistic in the long list of 'lost lives'; to help keep his memory alive - and that of my mum and dad, whose premature deaths from broken hearts were the unreported collateral damage of his brutal and senseless murder.

John's callous killers achieved nothing but heartache for those left behind to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives - and, ultimately, three more empty chairs around the Christmas table.

Writing about a murdered loved one is not something I would glibly recommend for everyone. Writing my story was painful and emotionally draining. I was surprised how much it took out of me - physically and mentally - as I sat alone at my laptop, reliving the memories.

Many people have asked me if writing my story has been cathartic. That seems to be the word they use when they hear about someone writing their true-life story.

I prefer to use the word 'contented'. That best sums up how I feel having done so. I am glad I did it. It has helped in my own healing process.

My hope is that others who have had loved ones murdered will read it and that it might help some of them to choose to write their own stories as part of their own quest for closure and contentment in the absence of the justice and truth they have been denied; that my very personal story might help contribute to the truth-recovery debate and process that is long overdue; that it might help wash away the sediment of secrecy that is preventing us all from moving forward.

Tears helped wash away my pain, but have never diluted the many happy memories I have of our own innocent childhood John and I had all those years ago.

Those days down at our little summer cottage near Doagh. Working on the local farm, herding cows in for milking, sliding down giant hay-bale stacks, fishing for trout in Six Mile River, learning to swim in Falls Road swimming pool.

Those happy memories can never be taken away - not even by men with an insatiable appetite for evil.

I noted when my book was published in May that the PSNI said it would "study its contents" - indicating that any new credible evidence would be pursued.

As I suspected, their response and promise was just the standard, patronising answer many victims' families have been accustomed to hearing - glib words, but little action.

Seven months later, and as I open the many Christmas cards arriving daily on the doormat from family and friends, I have yet to receive any letter, or even an email, or phone call, from the Chief Constable, George Hamilton, or his office, updating me on their 'study of my story' promise.

It simply reinforces the perception that victims and their families are really of no importance to those in authority.

From the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team - often cynically referred to as the Hide Everything Team - to our succession of Chief Constables and our MLAs, they can't agree on how to deal with the long-overdue legacy of our Troubles that is needed to help bring truth and much-needed closure to many victims' families. Being invited, along with artist Colin Davidson and singer/songwriter Colum Sands, to speak about my story at Belfast Wave Trauma Centre's annual Day of Reflection in September this year was a great privilege for me.

Speaking to more than 100 people that evening in the Garden of Remembrance was a very humbling experience, because they all understood my story, because each of them was remembering their own personal heartache.

Each of them have their own stories to tell.

And, as they and all victims' families gather around their individual Christmas tables, with the empty chairs where their loved ones once sat, I wish them all well in their continuing journey for justice, truth and contentment.

I hope our First and Deputy First Ministers, MLAs, Chief Constable and all those in authority enjoy Christmas with their families.

But I hope they spare a moment to think of the many empty chairs at Christmas tables and remember those victims' family members they have let down badly for too many Christmases.

They Killed The Ice Cream Man by George Larmour is published by Colourpoint Books, priced £9.99

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