Belfast Telegraph

IRA ambush survivor relives night fiancee Jillian Johnston was murdered by his side

By Lisa Smyth

A man shot in the head in an IRA attack that claimed the life of his 21-year-old fiancee has said his last memory before blacking out was of Jillian Johnston's mother saying that her daughter was dead.

Stanley Liggett suffered life-changing injuries in the shooting and spent six months in hospital, while Jillian, his girlfriend of nine years, was shot 27 times and died at the scene.

The childhood sweethearts, who planned to move to England after their wedding, had just returned from a chip shop in Belleek to Jillian's family home outside Kesh, Co Fermanagh, where the gunmen were lying in wait.

Speaking about the attack on March 18, 1988, Mr Liggett - who lives in Drumquin, Co Tyrone - said he is still haunted by the memory of Jillian's distraught mother finding her daughter slumped over in the car seat and that the horror of his ordeal almost drove him to suicide.

"It's not something you ever want to think about but it is in my mind all the time, I can only describe what I saw as hell," he said.

"Unfortunately, it's not something you are ever able to forget.

"Jillian's family lived on a farm and we had just pulled up into the yard when the shooting started. There was this awful flash, so I had a fair idea of what was happening, that it was automatic gunfire. Jillian never said a word, she was killed outright.

"After a while Jillian's mum came out and she must have heard me as I was starting to come around and I was calling out. The first thing she did was check Jillian and she knew straight away that she was dead.

"I don't remember much about it all, but I do remember hearing her say the words that Jillian was dead before I passed out, those words stayed with me for a long, long time."

Mr Liggett (55) was taken to the Erne Hospital before being transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

He added: "At the inquest it came out that Jillian was basically cut in two, while I was badly injured and never recovered fully from the shooting. I was shot in the head, it took the power from my right leg and I lost my left shoulder, it was completely blown off, and my left arm was totally destroyed.

"I was shot in the right shoulder and I would still have a lot of pain with it a lot of the time.

"I was back and forward having operations, I needed an operation on my brain to remove fragments. I was in a very bad way, even thinking about suicide, but then something appeared in front of me and the only way I can describe it is the Lord.

"After a few years I was able to start to move on and I married and now have three children, two sons and a daughter." Mr Liggett said his wife Melanie and his faith are the two things that got him through all the difficult times over the years.

"I know who it was who shot us and they were never charged, but I firmly believe that anyone involved in Jillian's murder will pay a heavy price," he said.

"Jillian was a great girl, she was a very religious, Christian girl, a loving girl who loved life and loved everyone.

"We met at a dance in Kesh and from that night to the day of the shooting we were together.

"We were engaged and we had a date set for the wedding, my brother was working over in England and we were planning to move over there and work after the wedding.

"We had all our plans made, that was going to be our next move. I went through a lot but there is no question the Lord was with me, because the IRA didn't expect me to live. A few months after the shooting a doctor pulled a hair from my head and told me that's how close I came to dying, but it is Jillian who lost her life at such a young age."

Mr Liggett said that he had found it difficult to accept when New York mayor Bill de Blasio declared March 17 'Gerry Adams Day' at the weekend.

"She was only starting out in life when it was taken away and that's why I can't believe that the New York mayor, or any politician, would have said what he said," he added.

He urged Mr de Blasio to resign, saying: "Anyone who saw what I saw or went through what I went through would never say such a thing."

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph