Lindy McDowell: Omagh - the last precious tear of a dead daughter
She was just 15. She had given up her Saturdays to work as a volunteer in the local Oxfam shop. If ever there was an example of the innocence and goodness of a terrorist victim compared to the hate-filled savagery of the monsters who stole her life away it was Lorraine Wilson.
This week at a high-powered London gathering of publishers, the media, power-brokers and politicians, Lorraine was remembered. All the other 28 victims of the Omagh bombing (and the unborn twins) were remembered too.
But it was the story of Lorraine, that sweet-faced young girl with so much to live for and with such a passion for life, that momentarily epitomised the enormity and the searing pain of the human loss.
The occasion was the launch of Aftermath, the brilliant new book by Ruth Dudley Edwards that charts the story of the bombing and of the families’ long and defiant fight for some sort of justice.
One after another the invited speakers had risen to deliver finely crafted speeches paying tribute to the families themselves, to the lawyers who fought and won the historic civil case against the bombers and to the book’s author.
There was Victor Barker the father of 12-year-old James murdered in the bombing. Victor, himself a lawyer, had first mooted the idea of suing the bombers in a civil action.
In a deeply moving speech this brave and determined man’s voice wavered with love and grief as he mentioned his son’s name.
Lord Salisbury whose financial backing and constant support made the unprecedented case possible spoke too — powerful, witty and impassioned.
And Peter, now Lord Mandelson, who’d also backed the campaign with his own money and a crucial appeal that swayed the government to get behind it.
And then someone suggested that maybe Godfrey Wilson, who was attending the launch with his wife Ann, might wish to say a few words.
Godfrey took the microphone. It would indeed be only a few words he said. “I am not an educated man,” he told the crowd in quiet, self-effacing manner.
And he then launched into an impromptu speech of utter, raw, heart-tearing power.
He talked of his little girl, of hockey-loving, horse-loving Lorraine. She was a scholar, he said, that quaint country term conjuring up the smiling girl who always had a book under her arm.
It was as if Godfrey was no longer looking at the audience. It was as if he was seeing only Lorraine.
And as he spoke we could see his Lorraine too. Her joy in life and love for her family. In his words Lorraine came alive. And in his silence we heard the unbearable pain of her loss.
For a long agonising moment Godfrey struggled to speak as he recalled his girl. Amid the crowd you could have heard a bead of sweat drop. And all around silent tears flowing
In her book Ruth Dudley Edwards recounts a family story about how Lorraine had once tried on the dress her mother Ann had worn on her wedding day. As she twirled and laughed, she told her father: “If I die before you two, bury me in this.”
Just two weeks later they did.
Lorraine Wilson was laid to rest in her coffin — in her mother’s wedding dress.
When her father had identified her in the morgue after the bombing he had noticed, just below her eye, a single tear. Gently he’d removed it and put it in a matchbox — a poignant, precious keepsake of his adored daughter.
Victory in the courts has brought the Omagh families some justice.
But it is the impact of their civil action in the wider fight against terrorism that will truly resonate throughout the world for years to come.
That is the momentous legacy of Lorraine and the others who died that day.
And that is some solace to the father left with only grief in his heart — and the final, treasured tear of his murdered child carried with him forever.
Aftermath by Ruth Dudley Edwards, Harvill Secker, £12.99