Government ‘slamming door’ on victims’ families with Troubles ‘amnesty’

·5-min read

A man who lost his father in the Sean Graham bookmakers shooting in Belfast in 1992 has said the Government will “slam the door” in grieving families’ faces with its proposed statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions.

Billy McManus, whose father William was one of five people killed when the Ulster Freedom Fighters opened fire on the bookies, said his family were within “touching distance” of getting answers about the attack.

An inquest into the killings is scheduled for January 10 next year, while Mr McManus told the PA news agency the family expected to receive a report from the Police Ombudsman in September or October.

But now the inquest is in doubt after Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis announced proposals earlier this month to create a statute of limitations ending all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998.

The legislation would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries, and would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the plans would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles” but they have been roundly condemned by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland.

People who lost loved ones in attacks spanning the breadth of the conflict met at Downing Street in London on Tuesday to express their outrage at the proposals.

Mr McManus said: “There is a lot of anger and hurt at what they are going to do. They are just going to erase the memory of my father and it doesn’t count.

“The British Government need to stand up and take responsibility for what they did – if it wants to solve the legacy issues it needs to help the families get the justice they deserve.”

Northern Ireland Troubles
(left to right) Julie Hambleton, Joe Campbell Jnr, Raymond McCord and Billy McManus (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

He added: “My family are at the heart of this – we are so close, we are within touching distance and [the Government] is just going to slam the door in our face.

“At the end of the day it just shows you what they are like, they don’t care, and they don’t care about the hurt and pain that has been left behind.”

When asked what justice might look like for his family, he replied: “The truth to be told about their murders – who did it and who helped – and for the state to say they armed and recruited loyalist gunmen.”

Mr McManus added: “What the British Government needs to understand is that all of the families of those that were murdered will never give up the fight for justice and truth.”

“I think the answers are out there, [the Government] know what they did and they know who did it, so it is just up to them to release it.”

Also present was Joe Campbell Jnr, whose father Joseph, a Catholic police officer, was shot dead outside Cushendall RUC station in 1977.

“We live in a democracy and some of the fundamental rights of a democracy are the right to an inquest and the right to remedy through the criminal and civil courts,” Mr Campbell said.

“Boris Johnson and his cabinet are trying to take that away not just from me and my 86-year-old mother, but all victims and survivors, and that is just wrong.”

He added: “Keep open the communication links and the rights that citizens have to truth and justice.”

Mr Campbell continued: “For me personally, I am not interested in anybody going to court, I am an ordinary person, just like the people around me here.

“For over 40 years some of us have been on the trail of justice, and in the early days I thought I would get it, now I don’t think we will get justice but for me personally I just want the truth.”

“I want the Government to stand up, take the scrutiny that they should and let investigations run their course – proper independent investigations – and let people like myself and my colleagues around me see the truth,” he said.

Northern Ireland Troubles
Veteran victims campaigner Raymond McCord (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The demonstrators delivered a letter to Downing Street demanding the proposed legislation be scrapped.

One line read: “Your proposals are not for the benefit of victims and their families to help them move on, they are there to protect the British government [from] being exposed (for) the major part they played in the murders of thousands of innocent victims.”

Raymond McCord, a veteran victims campaigner whose 22-year-old son, Raymond Jnr, was murdered by the UVF in Belfast in 1997, said he was “absolutely disgusted” at the plans.

His son’s death would fall just inside the statute of limitations.

“Fifty years it took to get an inquest for the Ballymurphy (massacre) families – Boris Johnson condemned that and said it was wrong, now he is going even further.

“No inquest, no investigations, no prosecutions, no civil actions.”

Mr McCord added: “We are the ones who are forgotten about. We are part of the UK. Boris Johnson preaches that all these lives don’t matter.”

“Boris Johnson says this will help victims move on. The man’s a liar. He hasn’t spoken to one victim – please show me the victims he has spoken to that says this will help us move on?”

Julie Hambleton, who lost her sister Maxine in the 1974 Birmingham Pub Bombings, said she was “sickened” by the Government’s plans.

“This is legislation has absolutely nothing to do with offering amnesty to our soldiers,” she said.

“This legislation is all based on the British state and the secret services trying to absolutely and utterly bury their dirty, toxic, collusions that took place during the decades of the Troubles.”