Belfast Telegraph

Family's pain one year on after Rangers fan killed in bus crash on way to match

By Victoria Leonard

The family of a Northern Ireland man who died after a coach overturned while taking Rangers fans to a match said they are still searching for closure a year on from the tragedy.

Ryan Baird (39), a father of twin sons, was killed in the crash in East Ayrshire on October 1 last year.

Eighteen others, including members of Nith Valley Rangers Supporters' Club, were injured.

A court hearing took place in Scotland in May in relation to the crash, and another is due to take place in the New Year.

Due to Scottish law, the nature of the charges and the identity of the defendant cannot be revealed by the Scottish Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service at this time.

Ryan, from Magheramorne in Co Antrim, had moved to Sanquhar in Dumfries and Galloway, and was engaged to be married to his partner Sarah Hughes this August.

Instead, hundreds of mourners, including then Rangers manager Mark Warburton, gathered at the small rural church in Larne last October to lay him to rest.

Ryan's grieving father Alex (58) visits his eldest child's grave, which is marked with blue and white wreaths symbolising Ryan's beloved team, to speak to him several times a week.

"I can hardly believe it has been just over a year - it's still hard to come to terms with the loss of him," Alex told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Ryan was the eldest of our five children, and his two sisters and brothers looked up to him.

"He had a good sense of humour and he would have done anything for anyone.

"He would have turned 40 on May 18 this year.

"His mum Maree (60) has been hit the hardest - she goes to the cemetery every day to be close to him.

"It's a comfort having him so close. I would go and talk to him several times a week and tell him what's happening.

"I think about him every day. It becomes reality when you get a headstone up.

"For a while it was a nightmare, but it gets to the stage where you just have to accept it has happened and he is not coming home. This past year has been really tough."

Alex said that Ryan's 21-year-old twin sons Dean and Kyle still find it difficult to talk about what happened.

The family are also in regular contact with his Scottish fiancee.

"We are in touch regularly with Sarah - we would go over to her, and she comes over to us," Alex said.

"She will always be like a daughter to us. On the day of the accident Ryan rang her at 10.30am to say the arrangements were made for the wedding. Then by 1pm it was all over."

Alex said that after the crash, the family were warned by Scottish police that it could "take up to two-and-a-half years" before the cause of the accident was confirmed.

"I believe that the coroner has a report ready, but under Scottish law he can't release it until a case comes to court as they feel it could jeopardise proceedings. It's very frustrating," he said.

"In the meantime, if you go on to Facebook you can see people putting stories up about what happened which aren't true.

"There were also stories which weren't true in the Scottish press.

"It hurts when things like that happen. I tell my wife not to look at things like that on the internet.

"I know that Ryan died instantly."

Following the collision, both Rangers and Celtic football clubs issued statements passing on their condolences to the Baird family.

Celtic fan Rod Stewart, who donated to fundraising efforts, said at the time: "At sad times like this we are one big football-loving family."

Alex (right) revealed that since the crash, members of Nith Valley supporters' club who were also travelling on the bus when Ryan was killed, have become "an extended family". The dad also paid tribute to the community in Larne, who he said are still supporting the Baird family.

Ryan was well-known in the town, where he was a member of several local clubs and bands.

Shortly after his death, Larne's Constable Norman Anderson Memorial Flute Band played music in Ryan's memory outside the town's Rangers supporters' club, where he had been a member.

The gates were adorned in memorial tributes including Ryan's band uniforms.

Fundraising initiatives were set up for his sons, both of whom still live in Northern Ireland.

"We have had unbelievable support from the local community," Alex revealed.

"They have played charity football matches in Ryan's memory in the Rangers supporters' clubs in Larne and in Scotland.

"They have even set up the Ryan Baird Memorial Cup.

"I think that Ryan would have liked that - it is a fitting tribute to his memory."

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