Belfast Telegraph

I forgive Omagh bombers who killed my brother: Sibling tells of 'long road' to finding inner peace

Twenty years after Omagh, Oliver-Tristan Barker says he's able to forgive those behind atrocity and wants face-to-face meeting

By Claire McNeilly

The brother of one of the Omagh bomb's youngest victims has said he has learned to forgive the killers - and would be prepared to talk to them about why they destroyed the lives of so many people.

Twelve-year-old James Barker was one of 29 people - including a woman pregnant with twins - who died in a Real IRA attack on the market town on August 15, 1998.

Now, with the 20th anniversary of the Troubles' worst atrocity approaching, Oliver-Tristan Barker (24) has revealed that he is on the "long road" to forgiveness, describing a recent visit to Omagh as "cathartic".

The 24-year-old estate agent said the loss of James - the third youngest of four siblings - has grown more profound over the last two decades.

"This year, 20 years on, puts me in a personally emotional position because, like every year, it will remind me that my 12 year-old brother was butchered by republican terrorists," he said. "I was only four or five when it happened. It's difficult to describe the knock-on effect that James's death has had on my family and friends.

"Nothing can compare to the loss of a child. To this day it remains as unbelievable as it is unthinkable."

No-one has been convicted over the bombing, although two men - Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly - were found liable for the massacre following a civil retrial five years ago, with the victims' families awarded £1.6m in damages.

Oliver-Tristan says he hopes whoever bombed Omagh will one day be caught and brought to justice.

But, in the meantime, the youngest member of the Barker family has found an inner peace amid his suffering.

"Forgiveness is a long road. It's the start of a journey. I am on that journey," he said.

"I forgive them. I would offer them a seat at the table so I could talk to James's killers face-to-face."

When asked what he would say to them, Oliver-Tristan replied: "If they conceded what they did to our family was wrong then I would say I understand why they thought they were fighting for what they believed was right.

"I understand why they did what they did; I don't agree with what they did, but I forgive them for it."

He added: "My mother and father taught me to understand the conflict."

Oliver-Tristan's parents Victor and Donna-Maria, both aged 61, had moved to her native Northern Ireland a year before the bomb, with their daughters, Erin-Esther (now 40) and Estella (36), and their two sons, Oliver-Tristan and James.

After losing James in such horrific circumstances, they returned to Surrey.

Last year, the Buckingham-based young professional went to the scene of the Co Tyrone car bombing along with his mum, who is originally from Londonderry, during a trip organised by South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF).

"I found it immensely cathartic to visit Omagh," he said.

"I love Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland and I've relished the opportunities I've had to go back there."

Having had the chance to engage with the families of other victims, thanks to their host and SEFF director of services Kenny Donaldson, Oliver-Tristan knows the strength that lives within those so deeply tarnished by loss.

"The pain of losing James rarely dissipates for a day. It's always there," he said.

"Our deepest respect must be reserved for victims and families who, over the years, have consistently rejected violence."

He added: "I believe in God and in forgiveness. Reconciliation is the only path to justice and freedom."

Oliver-Tristan said his "very close" family have helped each other through the tough times, including a landmark civil trial and retrial.

"As a unit, we've always been there to support each other," he said.

"Will there be justice? Twenty years is a long time. I think the very hard-fought civil case has been just that. It would be difficult to think anything would allow us to progress any further."

Last year, relatives of the victims announced they would sue the PSNI's Chief Constable for failings they believed allowed the killers to escape justice.

Today, Oliver-Tristan is appealing to Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams to help with their quest for justice.

"As a man who was rewarded with high political office I would ask him to step forward," he said.

"If he hasn't the details about the Omagh bombers to hand, he certainly has the means to find out who those people were and he should make that information known to allow the legal system to run its course."

For Oliver-Tristan's mum, this anniversary will be just as hard as all of its predecessors. "It will always be a time of remembrance for her," he said.

"A time for always recognising the incomparable loss of a child. It's so inexplicable and so difficult to resolve in one's own mind. She has been my guiding light."

He added: "The anniversary of James's death is never a private event. It's always open to family and friends. We will go to my brother's graveside and we will continue to recognise the atrocity that claimed his life alongside all the other individuals whose names we'll never forget either."

Meanwhile, Oliver remembers James's "beautiful green eyes and that beautiful smile".

He added: "Personally I don't have a huge amount of memory of him, but I've seen the pictures and heard the stories and I always think of him."

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