Shankill bomb 20 years on: I get angry when outsiders say 'forgive and forget' - they did not see what I saw
Published 21/10/2013 | 00:00
The horrific scenes he witnessed in Frizzell's fish shop on Belfast’s Shankill Road never leave Raymond Elliott's head.
The only civilian in the premises minutes after the bomb exploded, he helped shovel the unrecognisable remains of human beings into brown bags.
“These people, my friends and neighbours, were reduced to that,” he says, breaking down in tears.
Twenty years later, he's on 19 tablets a day to stop him going crazy. He still sees a psychiatrist.
“I get angry when outsiders say ‘Forgive and forget, it's time to move on'. They didn't see what I saw.”
If he met the surviving Shankill bomber Sean Kelly, great-grandfather Raymond would “want to kill him with my bare hands”.
Nine civilians, including two children, were killed and 57 were injured in the IRA bomb which ripped apart the fish shop on October 23, 1993. One of the two bombers, Thomas Begley, died in the blast.
Begley and Kelly had walked into the packed shop dressed as delivery men in white coats. The bomb, which was on an 11-second fuse, detonated prematurely. The IRA said the targets were UDA leaders whom it wrongly believed were at the time meeting above the shop.
Raymond still has flashbacks of the carnage: “The terror on one victim's face haunts me. There is nothing from a horror movie that comes close to that expression. People have tried to tell me it was like a light switching off for those killed and they didn't suffer. If you saw the look on that face, you wouldn't believe it.
“The IRA destroyed my life and I lost no-one in the bomb.
“I can't even begin to imagine what the bereaved families have been through.”
For years, he'd wake in the middle of the night and have to wash his hands: “I thought they were still covered in blood.”
Raymond was standing at Tennant Street when he heard the blast and ran to help. While others searched though the rubble outside for survivors, he went into the fish shop along with two police officers and two firemen.
“There were body parts stuck to the wall, blood and guts. People's insides were lying there. I saw somebody's scalp. Adrenalin kept me going. I was no hero. Everybody that day did all they could to help,” he says.
Afterwards, he went home, had a bath and binned his clothes. His wife returned to find him watching television.
“Nobody would have known I'd been at the bomb scene. But a few weeks later, I cracked up. I ended up in the psychiatric unit in the City Hospital for a month,” he recalls. He won't attend the 20th anniversary remembrance service on Wednesday.
“I couldn't bear to. What I saw remains like a black veil hanging over me. I belong to no organisation, I'm not sectarian, but there is some nonsense talked about how victims should feel. People say ‘Time heals' — it doesn't.”
Michelle Williamson remembers her parents setting off shop
ping on that sunny autumn afternoon 20 years ago. They went to the Shankill to buy curtains for their new home. They never returned. George Williamson, 63, and his wife Gillian, 47, were blown to bits buying fish for their tea in Frizzell's.
“I waved them goodbye and the next time I saw my father he was lying dead in hospital with his head bandaged and blood seeping onto the pillow. I held his hand and kissed him on the cheek,” says Michelle.
“I never got to say goodbye to mummy. She was in such a bad state relatives thought it would be too distressing for me see her in the morgue. I'll regret that for the rest of my life. I should have gone in and told her how much I loved her.”
Michelle, 47, says her parents' deaths have destroyed her.
“I was a carefree young woman when they were murdered and now I'm full of pain and anger. I don't want to keep campaigning but I've no choice,” said Michelle.
“Every time I try to move on with my life, there's another slap in the face. I thought there was some justice when Sean Kelly got nine life sentences.
“But then with the Good Friday Agreement, he walked free after seven years. He served less than one year in jail for each life he took.
“Now on the 20th anniversary, republicans are organising a commemoration for Thomas Begley. How can I just walk away and ignore that?” Michelle believes she has a duty to fight for
her parents: “I'm the same age now my mother was when she was killed.
“I remember how she taught me as a child to sew and knit and all the love she gave me.
“I remember my father scrimping and saving and sacrificing so much for me. They gave me everything when they were alive and now it's my turn to do all I can for them.”
Lauren Baird was only 12 weeks old, and her brother Darren was nine, when they were orphaned in the Shankill bomb. Their parents, Evelyn Baird and Michael Morrison, and their seven-year-old sister Michelle were killed in the blast.
The family had gone into the fish shop because Michelle loved the crab-sticks sold there. The three coffins came home sealed. Evelyn Baird's uncle, Charlie Butler, who had been shopping on the Shankill when the bomb exploded, helped pull survivors from the rubble. He saw the remains of his niece, her partner and their daughter carried past him but didn't recognise them.
It was only later when someone said Evelyn had been wearing cerise cords that he realised what he had seen and that they were all dead. Evelyn's father, Bobby Baird, who brought up his two surviving grandchildren, recalled the trauma 20 years ago: “It was a nightmare. Looking back, we wonder how we coped. We were in a daze.”
Bobby said he'd never forgive the bombers “until the day breath leaves me”.