Belfast Telegraph

Mum of young woman shot 27 times in attack IRA said was mistake, still seeking justice

By Ivan Little

The bereft mother of a forgotten Northern Ireland murder victim who was shot 27 times by the IRA has spoken out on the eve of the 30th anniversary of her killing - conceding that she'll never get justice.

But the Provo gang who killed 21-year-old Jillian Johnston and seriously injured her fiance Stanley in Fermanagh were warned by her still-grieving mum Annabella that they would have to answer to God on Judgement Day for their 'cowardly act'.

The frenzied gun attack was unleashed on Friday, March 18, 1988, as Jillian and her childhood sweetheart sat in her father's car in the Johnstons' farmyard, set amid the splendour and serenity of mystical Boa Island near Belleek.

The Provos said the murder was a 'mistake' but they compounded the outrage by saying their real target was Jillian's UDR brother. For that was another 'mistake' - none of the Johnstons were in the security forces, nor was her fiance.

One local man said at the time: "The Provos claimed it was a mistake, but shooting that wee girl 27 times ensured they made no mistake about killing her."

However, the horror of Jillian Johnston's savage shooting was quickly pushed off the front pages by other headline-grabbing killings during one of the bloodiest fortnights of the Troubles.

It had started with the SAS shooting of three IRA members in Gibraltar and two days before Jillian's murder, loyalist Michael Stone killed three Catholic mourners at Milltown cemetery.

The day after Jillian's killing, two soldiers, corporals Derek Wood and David Howes, were shot dead by the IRA after they drove into a funeral cortege in Andersonstown.

The Stone murders and the corporals' killings were captured on camera by an international press corps.

But Jillian Johnston's murder didn't command quite the same attention.

One journalist said: "The murder happened on a Friday night; it was nearly 100 miles from Belfast and then the corporals were caught by a lynch mob in front of the cameras."

The rest of the world and the rest of Northern Ireland may have swiftly forgotten Jillian Johnston, but the kind-natured girl who couldn't do enough to help customers in her chemist's shop in the border village of Belleek is never far from the thoughts of her family.

Her mother said she'll never forget her, nor the sound of the automatic gunfire that took her daughter from her.

In a poignant and at times chilling statement, Mrs Johnston spoke of the nightmare that unfolded after Jillian and Stanley had been to a cafe in Belleek.

They were excitedly planning their wedding.

Mrs Johnston said: "They came home about 10.15pm and pulled up into the yard in the car. I was on my own at the time. My husband had gone out to visit neighbours. I heard awful automatic gunfire It seemed to go on and on.

"I was terrified, I can remember the sound to this day.

"I rang my sister-in-law who lived nearby and she came. Just as she opened the door I heard Jillian's fiance calling out and lamenting."

Mrs Johnston ran out to the car to find a scene that still haunts her .

"The minute I saw Jillian I knew she was dead. I lifted up her head and it fell down again. That Friday night will be with me forever. Jillian was buried the following Sunday. The post mortem revealed that at least 27 bullets had been found in her body."

Mrs Johnston recalled how former Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams "stated in the press that it was wrong information they had received".

She added: "Jillian's murder brought it home to us that you didn't have to be in any organisation to be murdered."

Jillian's murder provoked fury in Belleek, but the IRA didn't go away.

Five months after the killing, two Protestant men who had been lifelong friends were shot dead after they left Belleek Police Station, where they'd been working on a building contract.

The same ruthless IRA gang was to blame and no fewer than 99 spent bullet cases were recovered from the scene. Frederick Love (64) and William Hazzard (59) were family friends who had helped the Johnston family on their farm.

No-one has ever been charged with the murders of the two men or of Jillian Johnston.

Mrs Johnston said that Jillian's brothers and sisters have all moved on with their lives and have families of their own.

"But the memory of the brutal murder will always be with them. It is still talked about as if it was yesterday," said Mrs Johnston adding: "Thirty years on, we feel as a family that no-one will ever be brought to justice for the murder of Jillian.

"However, it is our Christian belief that those responsible for this cowardly act will have to answer to God on their final Judgement Day."

Belfast Telegraph

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