How dare the Tories extinguish only thing grieving Troubles families have left: the faint hope of justice
Teresa Slane is haunted by the image of her three children huddled on the stairs in the middle of the night holding their father’s hand.
Gerard was already dead, but his kids didn’t know it. Sean was nine, Catriona was four, and young Gerard was two. There was blood everywhere.
Four UDA gunmen sledge-hammered their way into the family’s west Belfast home at 4.15am on September 23, 1988.
Hearing the glass in the front door breaking, Gerard (28) jumped out of bed. One UDA man sat on the bonnet of the getaway car with a rifle as four others burst into the house.
Gerard was halfway down the stairs when he met them coming up. He turned to run but it was too late.
Teresa ran outside screaming, cutting her feet on the glass as the children gathered around their daddy.
It’s a scene that will never leave her head. Often, it’s been the last thing she sees before she goes to sleep.
Army agent Brian Nelson was involved in the murder.
For 34 years, Teresa has fought for the truth to be told. She thought she was finally getting somewhere.
A fresh inquest was scheduled for next year, but the British government’s legacy legislation now means it won’t happen.
The Tories bill includes not only an effective amnesty for perpetrators, it also shuts down all new civil cases by victims’ families and Police Ombudsman investigations as well as inquests which haven’t yet opened.
This goes far beyond preventing the odd Army veteran standing in a dock. It is the State shutting down all avenues for the public airing of its squalid little secrets.
Brigadier Gordon Kerr, who ran the Force Research Unit (FRU), and others within that organisation, along with an ex-Special Branch officer who ran Nelson, were expected to have been subpoenaed to appear before the inquest. It could have become a de facto mini-inquiry into FRU.
It’s not just cases involving loyalist collusion the government wants to stop. Increasingly, we’re hearing embarrassing allegations of State collusion in IRA killings with blind eyes being turned to protect high-level informers.
Bizarrely, it is the Tories — the so-called party of law-and-order — who are claiming that pursuing justice in the courts isn’t working for families.
Yes, it can take an extraordinarily long time, but that’s usually due to State obfuscation and obstruction at every step of the way.
It is the courts alone which so often have delivered for the bereaved.
Just last week, the police made an undisclosed settlement and issued a public apology to the widow of a murdered GAA official for inadequacies in the RUC investigation.
Sean Brown was abducted and killed by the LVF in 1997. His widow Bridie had taken a civil case against the PSNI chief constable for alleged misfeasance in public office and negligence.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is an immoral, iniquitous and obscene denial of victims’ rights.
It’s not just that this British government doesn’t give a hoot about bereaved families which is shameful.
It’s that they have the bare-faced cheek to dress up their outrageous proposals as an act of reconciliation which strengthens peace.
Everyone who lost a loved one in the Troubles — regardless of whether the bomb was planted or the trigger was pulled by republicans, loyalists or the State — is entitled to truth and justice.
Some families don’t want anyone prosecuted even if evidence arises, while others do. The very thought of that possible knock on a perpetrator’s door — no matter how remote the chances — has kept many victims going over the years and provided some comfort. To extinguish that hope is beyond cruel.
How must the families of the 21 people killed in the IRA’s Birmingham pub bombings feel about what their government is proposing?
Eighteen-year-old Maxine Hambleton, a shop assistant in Miss Selfridge, was having a drink with friends in the Tavern in the Town on November 21, 1974, when a bomb ripped through the premises.
She was identified by her rings and bangles. The severity of Maxine’s injuries meant detectives told her mother not to look at her daughter’s face so she wouldn’t remember her that way.
Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis have never had a loved one blown up beyond recognition or gunned down on the stairs in the middle of the night.
Perhaps if they had, they wouldn’t be defending the indefensible.