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Parents of man killed in US offer help to families of Berkeley balcony collapse students

By Laurence White

When news broke on Tuesday morning of the tragic deaths of six young Irish people in Berkeley, California, one of the first people to contact the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs with an offer of assistance was Newry man Colin Bell.

Colin - who along with his wife Eithne, runs a charity which repatriates the bodies of Irish people who die suddenly or tragically abroad - knows exactly what the bereaved families are going through.

By sad coincidence the Berkeley tragedy happened two years to the day after the Bell's 26-year-old son Kevin was killed in a hit-and-run accident in New York.

Colin said: "When we heard the news we contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs to offer our services. They thanked us but we have heard nothing more since then, so I presume they are making their own arrangements."

The charity, the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, has built up a lot of expertise over the past two years, having helped 70 families from throughout Ireland - 27 of them from Northern Ireland - to bring the bodies of loved ones home. One of the first cases they dealt with involved Bangor woman Victoria Comrie Cullen, whose estranged husband was found guilty earlier this month of killing her in a savage knife attack near Sydney, Australia, in January 2014.

"Very often the first contact we have is from a friend of the family who ask if we can help," Colin said. "We then contact the family and in quite a few cases have taken over all the arrangements for bringing the body home.

"That is one less thing for them to deal with at a time when they're devastated."

Repatriation is also a costly business, typically costing £8,000-10,000 to bring a body back from Australia and £6-£8,000 from the US.

The Trust has paid out considerable sums of money during its short existence and Colin is extremely grateful to the tireless work of fundraisers throughout Ireland and the generosity of donors. Together they have raised some £400,000-£500,000.

For more information on the work of the Trust or to make a donation, go to

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