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Children of last RUC officers killed by Provos urge them to share truth - 'Hopefully we will get justice one day'

John Graham with Abbie
John Graham with Abbie
John Graham's funeral
David’s funeral
David Johnston with his family
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The children of the last two RUC officers murdered by the Provisional IRA have spoken of how they live in the hope that the killer's conscience could still be triggered as they still struggle to cope with their loss.

At midnight on August 31, 1994, the IRA ceasefire was heralded as a new dawn for Northern Ireland.

Louie Johnston was just four years old at the time. It meant little to a boy who hadn't yet started school.

Abbie Graham was the same age. It meant nothing to her, either.

Three years later, in June 1997, Louie was aged seven when his grandmother was sent to his school to bring him home.

His RUC father, his hero, had been one of two officers killed by the IRA in Lurgan.

David Johnston, a 30-year-old married father-of-two from Lisburn, was killed at Church Walk, just yards from the town's RUC station.

His friend and colleague John Graham was also murdered.

At the same time, Abbie's teacher was walking her to the school gates to hear the news.

And the two, now aged 30, have seen their friendship grow since that day of shared tragedy, a day two mothers had to tell their children that their fathers were dead.

At least two people ran up to the community officers at around 11.45am that morning and shot them in the back of the head at point-blank range.

The IRA's north Armagh brigade quickly admitted responsibility.

There had already been widespread revulsion a year earlier, when the IRA broke a 17-month ceasefire in the February 1996 bomb attack on Canary Wharf.

There was more international outrage when the two constables were gunned down, including from US president Bill Clinton, who had been instrumental in talks to bring about the ceasefire.

But the words of condemnation meant nothing to a seven-year-old child who has just lost his father.

"My dad was my hero," said Louie.

"To me he was much more than a uniform. He took me fishing. He took me to the cinema. He was the best dad in the world and he still is.

"For both our families these were horrific circumstances, but we have not let that become our identity.

"We are left with the legacy of Dad, and Abbie's family are left with the legacy of John. We know their love for us as families and we know the character they had as people."

Louie recalled how his granny came to school the morning his father was murdered to pick him up.

"My dad's sergeant was with her," he said. "And when we went back to my house there were a lot of cars there. I remember thinking at the time that something wasn't quite right.

"People started telling me how sorry they were and it was only when my mum came to me and told me Dad had been in an accident that I started to understand.

"I thought we'd go to hospital to see him, but she just said, 'No, your daddy's dead'."

Louie said that, even at seven years old, he felt the burden of being the 'man of the family'.

"As children we knew nothing about unionists or nationalists. We weren't brought up like that. Our fathers didn't judge people by their religion. There was nothing political about them in any way.

"I just remember my mum being so upset and I felt I had to be the one to step up, to be strong.

"Looking back now I can say those people may have murdered our fathers but they didn't destroy their lives in terms of who they were, or the love that they had for their families, or our pride in them."

Louie was married four years ago and a first child of his own is expected soon.

"I'll be the same age as my dad was when he died when I become a father myself," he said.

"That's going to open up another range of emotions for me. The joy of being a father and the thoughts of my own dad, how he would have felt at seeing his grandchild."

Murdered alongside Louie's father was John Graham from Richhill. He was 34, married and had three children.

Abbie Graham was, like Louie, only seven when she was brought home early from school to hear the news of the father's death.

The two have become friends since their shared experience of losing a dad at such a young age.

"I guess we're both at the same stage of this, where we have started to realise things are never going back to the way they were, things are never going to get better for us," she said.

"It's quite difficult to move on and I don't mind admitting that.

"People always like to say let's move on from the past, but we live with what happened every single day. We will continue to do that. We have no choice.

"One thing we both know is that we're so proud of the men both our fathers were. That will never change."

Abbie remembers kissing her father goodbye on the doorstep as she left for school that morning and, like Louie, how she was picked up from school and returned to a home with lot of unfamiliar cars around it.

"Mum brought us into the 'good room' and told us simply, 'Daddy's gone to heaven'. What else could she say?" she recalled.

It was a moment that changed Abbie's life.

"I can remember being afraid to sleep alone for years after that," she said.

"I always brought the dog inside with me at night because it seemed as if the outside world wasn't safe anymore.

"I was scared that there were people out there with guns and, despite my mum telling us we were safe, that stayed with me as I grew up.

"It was a terrible burden on Mum to have three children who were really dependent on her, left feeling alone and frightened.

"It definitely wasn't a normal childhood after that day and though my mum did an incredible job, we were still always aware that our family was different from others.

"We would still very much like to get justice, that would give us some kind of closure.

"We have never had the full story. We have never had a trial. We have never had justice. That would go a long way to helping us heal but for the past two decades we have been left feeling that nobody cares.

"We have a certain peace now in the country and we have the Good Friday Agreement, but sometimes you feel as if there are attempts to justify the things that happened before that.

"We hear people saying 'that was a different time' but it doesn't matter to us if our fathers were murdered before or after any peace, we still live with the grief. We always will.

"This is not a historical issue for us. It is still affecting us every day and will continue to do so.

"We are both carrying that past with us today, but it would make the future that little bit easier if someone's memory or someone's conscience was triggered.

"We still live in hope that we won't be forgotten, that someone will, one day, come forward with information that will give us some answers."

Louie feels the same.

"Looking ahead to the future I often think, 'Let justice prevail, though the heavens may fail'.

"If those who were active in the IRA in the past now say they are committed to peace, let their fruits be shown by sharing the truth with families about what happened, regardless how damaging it might appear now."

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