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What's the price of a life? Troubles relatives on the inequalities of compensation

The widow of a man shot dead by the Army on Bloody Sunday was awarded £625,000 compensation this week. But other families who lost loved ones during the Troubles want to see a level playing field. Leona O'Neill reports

Relatives who lost loved ones during the Troubles have called for a "complete overhaul" of the compensation system following massive payouts to some of the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday.

The Ministry of Defence this week paid compensation to relatives of Gerard McKinney and Michael McDaid, who were killed in January 1972 by the Army.

The family of Mr McKinney, a 35-year-old married father-of-eight, was awarded £625,000.

Mr McDaid's family received £75,000, a lower amount, due to the fact the 20-year-old single man had no dependants when he was killed.

Although welcoming the payouts to the grieving families of those killed in Londonderry, families who lost loved ones in some of the most brutal and notorious murders have called for the compensation system to be changed to allow all families to receive a set amount.

Kevin Skelton lost his wife, Mena, in the 1998 Omagh bombing. He says she "was treated differently because she was a housewife".

"No disrespect to the lady who received the compensation, but where is the level playing field?" he asked.

"When my wife was murdered, she had four children and she didn't even get a sixth of what was paid out.

"She was a housewife. It was a case of, 'Take this or you don't'. It was plain and simple. My son, who was 18 years old, actually got nothing for his mother dying.

"I'm not saying money will replace her, but there just doesn't appear to be a level playing field for victims. It's very hurtful.

"They talk about dealing with the past. How can you deal with the past when you have a figure like that?

"I'm not saying those people don't deserve it, because they do. But what about a woman who lost her son 40 years ago who got £650? It's an absolute disgrace.

"After Mena died, I was posted £7,500 by the Northern Ireland Office to cover her funeral.

"Some people posted it back, some didn't because they couldn't afford it. Then I got £100,000 compensation and I was told to take it or leave it.

"Because she was a housewife, she had no monetary value, as opposed to someone who worked 80 hours a week. She looked after our children, she was their mother.

"If she had been a solicitor, or a teacher, they would have given money out from she was 39 years old until she was 65 years old, for what she would have earned. But because she was a housewife, she was treated like garbage.

"At the end of the day, it is not about money - it is about fairness for all. I'm not begrudging the family of the man murdered on Bloody Sunday at all, but we are being left behind.

"I just feel that that is what human life has come to in this country. If someone is murdered by the security forces, they seem to be worth more than someone murdered by terrorists.

"A murderer to me is a murderer. I don't care where he comes from."

Alan McBride lost his wife, Sharon, in the 1993 Shankill bomb. He says everyone should be treated in exactly the same way when it comes to compensation.

"Looking at it at face value, I wondered how some people get so much money and others get very little," he adds. "It is not unusual. I got some compensation because my wife was working, but I know that there were others that day whose loved ones were not working who basically got nothing.

"It seems to me the way that compensation is awarded is unfair. I was given some compensation. My wife was in junior management in the health service and there is no doubt that she would have risen through the ranks to senior management and on a huge salary. But life took a very different course and we have to live with the consequences of that.

"The way that compensation is awarded - given that it is attached to earnings and loss of earnings - is completely mercenary in some respects, because you have just no way of knowing what people would have earned.

"I would have thought that a much better solution would be to have a standard payment, paid out no matter what the circumstances are.

"I think it would be fairer and it would say that nobody's life is judged better than the other.

"But, unfortunately, the way that it works is you don't get compensated for the loss of life, rather the loss of income. I think it is very unfair.

"I am not begrudging this family the money they got. My goodness, I know what it is like to lose someone.

"They deserve every penny they got, but others deserve it, too."

Gary Murray's sister, Leanne, was also killed in the Shankill bombing. His mother Gina received enough to bury her daughter and pay for passage to England for her and Gary, her only surviving child.

"My mum got around £5,000 when Leanne died," he says. "They didn't know what Leanne would have grown up to be. I think that my mum getting £5,000 after Leanne died and someone else getting £625,000 after they lost their loved one is wrong - it should be the same for all victims.

"I don't begrudge the family the money - they deserve it. But I am angry about that. It is like putting a price on life. And you can't do that. It's disrespectful.

"My mum wasn't able to do very much with the money she was given, except bury her daughter and get us over to England. My mum had just me and Leanne. My father died a few months before Leanne was taken.

"My baby brother was stillborn and my other brother was killed in a road accident when he was just six years old. We moved away straight after the bomb to get away from it all. It was just myself and my mum left. I was just 15 years old.”

He adds: “Compensation should be the exact same for everyone. Everyone should get a decent amount of money — especially families who lost a loved one.

“If some families are getting that kind of money, my mum should have got that too.

“My sister was really smart. She was the top of her class and brilliant at everything. She could have been a doctor, or a solicitor, or anything she wanted to be. She was that type of girl; she concentrated and was always getting stuck into her school work. She was a bubbly, intelligent girl.

“There should be a set amount of compensation given to everyone, no matter what religion, or who they are.

“The NIO should review their compensation policy. They should treat people fairly and level the playing field.

“My sister was a young girl — she had her whole life in front of her. Who knows what she would have grown up to be? I think my mum should have got what the Bloody Sunday family got. A life is a life, no matter what age.”

Denise Fox, whose father, Denis Mullen, was gunned down by the notorious Glenanne Gang at his Co Tyrone home in September 1975, says her mother received just £12,000 compensation and that life was hard for the family.

“I think that the family of the Bloody Sunday victim should have got more money, considering who the perpetrators of the murder were,” she says.

“And to only be getting it now ... it’s disgraceful. I’d be sad to think of anyone objecting to a Bloody Sunday family getting compensation. At the end of the day, it’s over 40 years too late. The money that my mother got — some £12,000 — was totally inadequate.

“I remember reading about a woman, whose UDR husband was murdered around the same time as my daddy, was awarded something like £70,000. My mother had to bring up two children and had to give up work.

“She was bad with her nerves and had post-traumatic stress disorder after being shot at herself. The whole thing took a toll on her. That money that she got was ludicrous.

“Life was very difficult for us growing up. We had no money. We lived for my mother’s widow’s pension coming in every week and we didn’t have a fridge until I was 11 years old.”

The Northern Ireland Office was contacted for comment, but had not responded at time of going to print.

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