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Impassioned plea by Belfast pastor to meet IRA killers of his policeman father

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Pastor David Purse

Pastor David Purse

His father, who was shot dead at Seaview football ground in 1980

His father, who was shot dead at Seaview football ground in 1980

Pastor David Purse

The senior pastor at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle church in Belfast has pleaded with the IRA killers of his policeman father 40 years ago to meet him.

Pastor David Purse, who has admitted he harboured thoughts of revenge after his father was shot dead while on duty at a football match in north Belfast, said he wants to tell the terrorists "Jesus loves them" and that they can be saved.

Reserve Constable David Purse (43) was gunned down as he opened the gates of Seaview stadium on the Shore Road near the end of a game between Crusaders and Portadown in January 1980.

An off-duty member of the security forces who was in the crowd drew his personal issue weapon and chased the killers, but they got away and they have never been caught.

Pastor Purse, whose wife Donna lost an uncle in the Enniskillen bomb, preached an impassioned sermon in his church on the 40th anniversary of his father's murder.

He said the day of the killing would for him always be "black Saturday" when something "sinister, horrible and devilish" happened and changed the lives of his family and friends for ever.

The minister was just 14 at the time and he said Pastor James McConnell, the former head of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, broke the news to him that his father, a founder member of the church, had been shot.

He recalled: "I asked him if he was dead and then came the hammer-blow: 'Yes he is'. The bottom had completely fallen out of my world - something that would never be fixed, at least not in this life."

He recalled how hundreds of people attended the funeral service and burial at Carnmoney Cemetery and Pastor Purse, who has three sons, said his family had "come out of the storm not bitter, but better".

But turning to the IRA killers, he said: "Would someone now please find the men if they are still alive who killed my dad.

"Would someone tell them that I need to talk to them?"

He said he didn't need closure just for himself, but also for the murderers.

He added: "I need to tell them not so much about the man they killed but about the Jesus that that man loved.

"I need to tell them not about a united Ireland, not about a British state, but I need to tell them about the Kingdom of God."

Pastor Purse said that if the terrorists "called on the name of the Lord they can be saved".

"Not only is God's gracefulness great, so is His mercy," the 54-year-old minister added, describing how memories of the murder had never left him.

"I remember it as though it was yesterday," he told the congregation.

"That time was the darkest time in our lives. It was a time of terrible hurt, relentless pain and fear. That was a hurricane that hit us as a family and it didn't blow out as quickly as it came.

"A mother and her three sons were left alone and we wondered what would become of us."

Pastor Purse admitted that his faith was shaken and buffeted by the murder, adding: "It was a time of anger and even a time when revenge was contemplated, at least by me it was."

But the minister said that God's grace had helped them through the first day, the first week, the first month and the first year and subsequent decades.

He said with the benefit of hindsight he realised now that the hand of God had "held, sustained, guided and protected" the family and carried them through.

Pastor Purse said that in May 1987, a few months before he was ordained as a minister, Pastor McConnell and the church officials hired the Seaview football stadium for a mission.

He said he wondered what they were doing holding a mission in the very ground where his father had been killed seven years earlier.

"I said: 'Can that be right?' However, we went and a number of times I glanced across the pitch to the spot where I knew my father had been killed," he added.

Pastor Purse, who revealed that his youngest brother Philip was saved at the mission, also recalled meeting an eyewitness to his father's murder by chance 11 years ago.

The man disclosed that he was on his way out of Seaview when he heard a shout and saw a gunman shooting David Purse as hysteria broke out around the ground.

The man told Pastor Purse that he and a friend, who had also been at the match, had "given their hearts to the Lord" as a result.

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