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Forever tortured by guilt that he was unable to save lives


People frantically clearing rubble away after the 1993 blast

People frantically clearing rubble away after the 1993 blast

People frantically clearing rubble away after the 1993 blast

Amid the horror of the aftermath of the Shankill bomb, Raymond Elliott saw sights that will go to the grave with him.

It was a bright autumn afternoon on Saturday, October 23, 1993 when the busy lunchtime rush on the Shankill Road was transformed into a scene of devastation.

Families were picking up groceries and catching up with friends when two IRA men disguised as delivery workers brought a deadly cargo into the heart of this tight-knit community.

There was no warning in Frizzell's fish shop as men, women and children queued when a bomb exploded prematurely, indiscriminatingly slaughtering 10 people - including the IRA's own bomber Thomas Begley.

More than 50 others were wounded.

The old building was no match for the high explosives and collapsed in a massive cloud of dust and debris.

As many froze with shock and horror at the seemingly unreal scene before their eyes, brave, burly Raymond Elliott did not hesitate and without a thought for his own safety entered the smouldering ruins with emergency workers in a determined bid to save lives.

As his son Stephen recalled, that was his dad, he would have helped anyone.

Raymond had just seen his wife Doreen off on the bus when, in an interview he gave last year, he described the scene before him as "everybody running about crazy, crying and injured".

The local chemist was handing out bandages and even nappies as people tried to treat the many wounded.

Raymond described the inside of the fish shop as "a mess". There was no roof left and the side walls were falling down around him. He saw body parts, blood and guts.

One of the firemen was physically sick at the sight of the carnage.

"It was just a mess inside, a real, real mess. I don't want to talk about what I found," he said.

"No-one will ever know the extent of what I saw, not even my wife Doreen. It'll die along with me.

"We dug and we dug and we got four or five body bags filled. Some of the images still haunt me to today.

"I helped with most of the bodies. The ones we thought we could save. And the others were taken away."

Even recently, Raymond's mind was still tortured, wondering whether he could have saved anyone.

"Everybody tells me that I did what I could, but if I had saved one I think it wouldn't have hit me so much," he said.

As he left the scene that day he went quiet. He returned to his Highfield home, had a bath and binned his clothes.

His wife Doreen returned home to find him watching television. He could not tell her about what he had seen. Raymond initially tried to bottle it up, trying to spare anyone else from the horrific things he had seen. Later he sought counselling.

He was never able to bring himself to return to the site of the bomb for any of the anniversary events, instead taking trips with Doreen on that date to avoid the painful memories.

Around 10 years ago he found great comfort in helping victims and survivors through the Co Armagh victims group FAIR, and in turn provided even more comfort to the relatives of those who died in some of the most infamous atrocities of the Troubles - including the IRA's massacre of 10 Protestants at Kingsmills.

Although Raymond never told his full story publicly, he did make a taped interview for his family before his death.

Belfast Telegraph