Belfast Telegraph

Michael Stone murdered my dad ... no family should have to suffer like I did

Sabrina Hackett recalls the torment of her father's murder and meeting the man who pulled the trigger

Dermot Hackett with daughter Sabrina
Dermot Hackett with daughter Sabrina
Michael Stone
Dermot and Sabrina at the bread van
Dermot gives daughter Sabrina a kiss. Her dad was murdered 32 years ago in his bread van
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

A Co Tyrone woman whose father was murdered by loyalist Michael Stone 32 years ago has said she wants people to hear of the reality, brutality and heartache of the Troubles in the hope it never happens again.

Sabrina Hackett is speaking for the first time so that her three children and others never have to experience what she did.

Her father Dermot was found dead in his bread van on May 23, 1987. The Castlederg father had been shot up to 16 times with a submachine gun. He had died at the hands of Stone.

Sabrina (42), now a mother-of-three and living in Strabane, was just 10 at the time but remembers the events of that day like they happened yesterday.

"Saturday, May 23 is a day I will never forget," she said. "My mum and I were asleep and were awoken by knocks on the bedroom window and the front door, so my mum got up.

"I heard screams and loud crying, I came running up in my pyjamas and people were surrounding mum, comforting her and then, all of a sudden, a lot of people started to come to the house.

"Mum was in total shock and crying a lot. She was three months pregnant and the doctor came and tried to give her something to calm her down but she refused.

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"I will never forget two policemen knocking on the door and talking to mum to confirm my dad was dead. Their words were so cold. There was no empathy and they simply turned and said that they wouldn't be back in our house. My mum was sobbing and could barely stand up."

Sabrina said she was not prepared for the horror that awaited her when she arrived at the hospital to see her father.

"I guess as a child you don't really take it in but we got to the morgue and it was honestly the most horrific chilling experience a 10-year-old should have to see," she continued.

"My dad was laying there, freezing cold, I ran over and I thought he would wake up, I was devastated my dad was not responding to my calls.

"He didn't look like himself. I just couldn't believe it and I was so terrified. He was my hero, my one and only, my world.

"I loved my dad so much with being an only child. I was like his shadow, I went everywhere with him.

"I cried and cried there in the morgue and as we drove this body home. I was so heartbroken. It was just like a bad dream.

"Dad's coffin was brought into the room. They opened it and all I could see was a bit of blood leaking onto his shirt.

"His hands were so cold and I pulled up a chair and sat there holding his hands, hoping he would wake up and that this was not really happening.

"I still guess that I did not know the full extent of what happened, but I knew my dad was shot as at one stage blood started to come out of his mouth and everyone had to get out of the room.

"The undertaker had to clean him up. Then stuff started to seep out of his mouth so the coffin was closed. That was utterly heartbreaking for me.

"They put the lid on the coffin and my daddy was gone forever. I was left there a broken and terrified 10-year-old little girl who had lost her entire world."

Sabrina said the day of the funeral was a haze of sadness and horror.

"My Dad's death definitely made me grow up a lot quicker," she said.

"My childhood was gone. When Dad was being buried, I cried sore and nearly could have thrown myself in after him.

"I ended up in the hospital soon after his burial as I was heartbroken with grief and my mum couldn't cope."

The next few months were a nightmare, Sabrina said. Her mother, mourning her husband while struggling with pregnancy, was hospitalised.

Sabrina said she spent months between family and friends. Her baby sister was born six months after her father died. Her grandmother Cecilia, whom she had come to rely on, passed away from stomach cancer in 1988, leaving the family reeling in shock again.

Sabrina's mother was told that her husband was killed because supposed intelligence gathered by loyalist paramilitaries at the time showed that he was a member of the IRA.

They said that collection boxes he gathered after Mass proved that he was collecting for them.

The collection boxes were, in fact, for St Vincent de Paul and his family have always said the IRA membership claim is "utter lies".

"My family went to court to prove Dad's innocence," Sabrina added.

"My Dad was set up. He was harassed and tortured to the extent that he went public to the newspapers to say how the Army and police were constantly searching him and his bread van and raiding our house.

"Dad went public for him to be left alone and he was backed up by Bishop Daly," she added. "Dad was friends with both sides of the community and never had any problems with religion.

"He made deliveries to both sides of the community and was very well thought of.

"My dad did not have a bad bone in his body, he was even a pioneer.

"When dad died, we got a lot of the Protestant community coming to us and saying how sorry they were."

Stone was given a 30-year jail sentence for Dermot's murder as well as the murder of five other people - Thomas McErlean, John Murray and Kevin Brady at Milltown Cemetery in 1988, milkman Patrick Brady in south Belfast in 1984 and Kevin McPolin in Lisburn in 1985.

He was freed on licence but was returned to jail after a botched attack at Parliament Buildings in November 2006 when - armed with explosives, knives and an axe - he tried to get inside and kill Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams.

The earliest date upon which Stone might be released on parole licence will fall around July 2024.

Sabrina said she still hates the man who destroyed her young life and dreads bumping into him in the street.

"To this day, I hate that man," she added.

"I am not bitter and I have lots of friends on both sides. Dad's name was constantly all over the papers and TV with that man's cold scary face alongside him.

"Even today he makes my blood shiver and no one ever realises the effects it has on me to see him being sensationalised and hero-worshipped on social media.

"A few times I have gone online and read the comments. There is still so much hatred in Northern Ireland.

"I thought we were trying to move on and create peace. That's what I want for my children."

Sabrina recalled the time she came face-to-face with her father's killer. She said it chilled her to the bone.

"We did a show 13 years ago called Truth and Reconciliation with Desmond Tutu and we got to face Michael Stone," she explained.

"It was literally like something out of a horror movie.

"The room was silent and all I could hear was footsteps with a walking stick, I remember thinking I was going to be sick.

"I was shaking with anger and broke down as here I was sitting opposite the man that killed my dad. I used to have nightmares as a child as I thought he was coming to get us and that me and mum would be shot.

"I thought as he sat opposite me, 'what the hell am I doing?' I stared at him for less than 10 minutes and walked off the set, he made me feel sick to my stomach."

Sabrina hopes that by telling her story, it will prevent devastations like the destruction of her family from ever happening again.

"These kind of tragedies should not be happening to families as no one can understand what it is like until they experience it," she said.

"I grew up trying to put my feelings to the back of my head but, once I became a mum myself, I missed my Dad so much.

"He would have been a fabulous Grandad. He would be playing and singing to my girls and teaching them how to play the guitar.

"I had post-natal depression after my first baby girl and I blame that on meeting Michael Stone.

"After my third child, I was diagnosed with PTSD. But I definitely believe my dad is my guardian angel.

"I hope my story makes a difference in people's lives. I don't want my children to suffer the way I did.

"All I have of my dad is a scrapbook of memories, of newspaper clippings.

"I don't want anyone else to suffer like that."

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