Belfast Telegraph

Charlie Lawson's anger at plight of terror victims as he launches Operation Banner anniversary

Actor Charlie Lawson with Yvonne Black, widow of officer David Black with Mary Moreland, chairman of The War Widows Association, launching an event to mark 50th anniversary of Operation Banner
Actor Charlie Lawson with Yvonne Black, widow of officer David Black with Mary Moreland, chairman of The War Widows Association, launching an event to mark 50th anniversary of Operation Banner
Charlie with Ian Simpson
Actor Charlie Lawson
David Black
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Coronation Street star Charlie Lawson has accused the Government of trying to sweep the families of terror victims 'under the carpet'.

The Enniskillen-born actor claimed they would rather relatives "disappeared or just shut up".

He also called for more action to help the 'neglected' ex-policemen, soldiers and prison officers who served here during the Troubles.

Lawson was speaking yesterday at the launch of a Northern Ireland Veterans Association (NIVA) commemoration, which will be held in Lisburn on August 17 to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of troops here at the start of Operation Banner.

Lawson, who is an ambassador for the NIVA parade and service, said he was infuriated that most people in England, where he now lives, have already forgotten the Troubles.

"It's only when very unfortunate incidents like the murder of journalist Lyra McKee happen that people wake up and realise the Troubles maybe haven't gone away," he said.

Asked about the new political talks at Stormont, Lawson said it was difficult to see if progress could be made.

He added: "There are times when I would like to knock heads together and say 'for God's sake, sit down and get on with it'.

"The problems are not insurmountable."

Lawson, who plays Jim McDonald in Corrie, revealed how his father helped found the loyalist Ulster Vanguard movement. It opposed the imposition of direct rule of Northern Ireland from Westminster early in the Troubles and held a series of massive rallies.

He said: "My father was involved in local politics. He was one of the instigators of the Vanguard movement down there with Bill Craig and Harry West and he was a target.

"We were visited on numerous occasions by strange men in camouflage who would appear on the doorstep and have sandwiches - and they were there to protect us.

"The Royal Ulster Constabulary were regular visitors.

"The Ulster Defence Regiment were always round and about, making sure everybody was all right, and some strange guys from England would appear with no cap badges and mother would make them sandwiches."

Lawson was joined at the Wallace Park launch by widows and children of victims.

Yvonne Black, whose prison officer husband David was shot dead by the 'New IRA' as he drove along the M1 motorway to work at Maghaberry jail in November 2012, welcomed the commemoration.

She said it was important to ensure that people 'who gave their lives for their country' were always remembered.

She added: "To me it's also important to highlight the prison service who I think were the forgotten victims. And they were the people who came face to face with terrorists on a daily basis."

Mrs Black revealed that security provided for her family at their home was removed just before the killing.

"They reckoned there was no threat anymore," she said. "But that threat never goes away."

Mrs Black said she was trying to get on with life as best as she could, adding: "You just adjust to a new normal but life will never be the same."

Mary Moreland, whose husband John, a UDR reservist, was killed in an IRA ambush in Downpatrick in December 1988, was also in Lisburn in her role as national chairman of the War Widows Association.

She said August 17 would be a significant day for ex-service personnel. "But from a bereaved's point of view there isn't one day that goes by that you don't remember," she added.

"This will be a public day of remembrance however and that's important to keep what happened in the public consciousness because if you don't learn from history you will repeat it."

Also present at yesterday's launch was former barrister Peter Sefton, who lost his retired RUC father James and his mother Ellen in an IRA bomb attack on their car in Belfast in June 1990.

"I want to support the commemoration on behalf of my father and mother," he said.

Mr Sefton said he had been campaigning without success to establish why there had never been a prosecution over the murders of his parents.

He said he was convinced a high-level informer was involved.

One of the organisers of the NIVA commemoration, Ian Simpson, the chairman of the NI Prison Service Benevolent Fund, said the event was designed to honour the sacrifice of hundreds of men and women from the security forces, the prison service and emergency services killed 'doing their duty' during the Troubles.

He said: "Operation Banner veterans and their families have not been given the same public recognition for their service in the way that formal parades have been held for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Mr Simpson added that while the August event would primarily be a day of commemoration, NIVA was acknowledging there were also 'strong feelings' among many veterans about historical investigations.

These include the prosecution of Soldier F in relation to Bloody Sunday. Soldier F is facing two murder charges and four counts of attempted murder linked to the events in Londonderry on January 30, 1972.

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