Belfast Telegraph

Sister of murdered schoolgirl Megan McAlorum says mum died knowing she had made difference to justice system


By Claire McNeilly

The late mother of murdered schoolgirl Megan McAlorum died comforted by the knowledge that she had "made a difference" to the justice system.

Margaret McAlorum also had faith that she would be with Megan again, even calling out to her in the final days of her life, according to the west Belfast woman's daughter, Lynne.

Inspirational Margaret, who came to the public attention following the 16-year-old schoolgirl's murder in 2004, passed away last week aged 63, following a long battle with illness.

The mother of seven children and grandmother of 15 campaigned tirelessly for justice after much-loved Megan was murdered by Thomas Purcell in west Belfast in April 2004.

The killer, a member of the travelling community, was transferred to an English jail to serve his sentence without the McAlorums being informed, and Margaret's subsequent lobbying led to a change in policy whereby victims' families are now informed of the release date or any transfer of convicted killers.

In an emotional interview with this newspaper, Lynne Sutcu (39) said the whole family was proud of how her mum forced the Prison Service to change their policy as "she was always worried about it happening to another family".

"She left a real legacy - she felt she had to do it for Megan," she said.

"She felt a great sense of achievement before she died. She knew she made a difference."

Margaret was buried alongside Megan in the City Cemetery last Friday following a Requiem Mass in the chapel where she said her final goodbye to her beloved daughter 13 years ago.

"It helped that she knew she was going to Megan," said Lynne, fighting back tears.

"She took a lot of comfort from knowing that she'd be seeing her again."

Hundreds of mourners at Mrs McAlorum's funeral were told it was "so devastating" for Margaret and her husband Frankie (64) when Megan was raped and murdered in an isolated forested area that Easter Monday.

Fr Aidan Brankin also said the family were "really hurt" when they were not informed that their daughter's killer had been transferred to an English prison to serve his sentence.

"Margaret's campaign took off so that other families would never have to go through the same injustice," the priest said.

"Victims' family rights were to change forever and Margaret was the driving force - always thinking of others."

Indeed, it was as a result of her endeavours that a scheme was set up to allow relatives to register to be informed of the release date or any transfer of convicted killers.

Thirty-five years ago Mrs McAlorum was diagnosed with PBC (primary biliary cholangitis), a rare auto-immune condition that causes inflammation and scarring in the liver and which ultimately claimed her life on November 14.

Waitress Lynne, who has two sons Christopher (21) and Ben (15), with her Turkish husband Sahin (40), revealed that although they knew she was ill, they were not expecting death to come so soon.

"We're still in shock; I don't think it has sunk in to any of us yet," she said, adding that her mum slipped into a coma shortly before she was due to have an appointment about a liver transplant with a specialist from London just days before she died.

"The illness took its toll over the last 18 months - and she went downhill rapidly in the last four - but we didn't expect to lose her. We knew she was sick; we were waiting to hear if she was on the waiting list for a liver transplant. We didn't realise she was going to die so suddenly."

Lynne said her dad Frankie, to whom Margaret was married for 43 years, was "completely heartbroken".

"We're all devastated," she added. "It's still hard to believe she's not here. Sitting in mum's house now, it's so quiet."

But her father and siblings - Frankie (42), Richard (40), twin sister Paula (39), Stephen (31) and Kirsty (27) - take comfort from having been by her bedside when she died.

"She was drifting in and out of consciousness, but she knew who everybody was," Lynne said.

"We all got to tell her how much we loved her and she told us how much she loved us too."

Lynne, who was 25 when Megan was killed, said it was "really tough" to have lost both her mum and her sister, with whom she worked at the Glenowen Inn.

"When I went back to work in the same restaurant without Megan after she died, it was so hard," she said.

"Seeing the last table her and I wiped together that Sunday, Easter Sunday ... I thought about her every time I saw it."

Just as her mother's faith remained unwavering to the end and got her through the dark days of her illness, Lynne said their memories of her will help the family she has left behind.

"She was a good, kind, lovely, caring person," said Lynne.

"Mummy was really understanding. We always asked her for advice and she was absolutely amazing at giving good advice."

Responding to whether Margaret forgave Purcell before she died, Lynne replied: "She had no feelings for him whatsoever. She never thought of him. She promised herself she'd never allow him into her head."

Belfast Telegraph

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