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Memory of our son's killing remains raw

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A government minister vows that Britain will not be 'held to ransom or in terror' after an off-duty soldier is murdered in cold blood.

It could have been David Cameron speaking about this week's atrocity in London.

But they were the words spoken in June 1990 by Tom King, defence secretary in the dying months of Margaret Thatcher's premiership, and he was referring to the killing of Private Robert Davies in Lichfield by suspected IRA terrorists.

The 19-year-old had been in the army just 12 weeks with the Royal Regiment of Wales based at Whittington Barracks.

He had been standing on the platform of Lichfield City rail station waiting to return to his parents in Pontarddulais, near Swansea, with two colleagues – 19-year-old Pte Neil Evans from Llanelli and 20-year-old Pte Robert Parkin from Cheltenham.

Two hooded men, one carrying a silver handgun, pumped six bullets into the three young soldiers, who were wearing their civilian clothes, as stunned commuters fled.

Pte Evans and Pte Parkin survived. Pte Davies died in Sutton Coldfield's Good Hope Hospital. Hours later in Germany a British army major, Michael Dillon-Lee, was also shot dead as he sat in his car. Pte Davies' parents Des and Helen have spent 23 years coming to terms with what happened to their son.

They are perhaps uniquely placed to understand the pain of the family of Drummer Lee Rigby, the 25-year-old soldier murdered in Woolwich on Wednesday by two alleged Muslim fanatics who ran him down in a car then stabbed him on the ground.

Pte Davies' father, a 65-year-old retired delivery driver from Pontarddulais, near Swansea, said he had never been able to see his son's killers brought to justice.

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"Even if they were caught, I won't ever be able to forgive his killers," Mr Davies said. Pte Davies was single and had enjoyed playing football and rugby with his friends.

Mr Davies said: "The family of that soldier killed in London will probably feel the same as we did and we are so sorry for their loss. You know that something can happen to your children if they are soldiers but you don't expect them to be killed in their own country when they aren't even on duty.

"For a long time after Robert was killed I could not even hear an Irish accent because I kept thinking that it might have been the last thing he heard. Even so, we received letters from Northern Ireland expressing support." In 2010 Pte Davies' parents were awarded the Elizabeth Cross, a medal for families of people who have fallen in service.

The following year Lichfield District Council named a walkway close to the station Robert Davies Walk in honour of the young soldier. Mr and Mrs Davies and their daughter Andrea, along with her husband Alun Williams, were there for the ceremony.

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Mr Davies said he did not know what more the armed forces could do to keep off duty soldiers safe. He said:?"Even when Robert was killed, soldiers had been stopped from wearing their uniforms off duty because of the threat from the IRA. It's been 23 years but we think about Robert every single day."

Two months after Pte Davies' death, Sir Peter Terry, the former governor of Gibraltar, was shot at his home in Cannock Chase. He survived his injuries. No-one has ever been caught for the murder of Pte Davies.

Police had wanted to question suspected IRA terrorists Pearse McAuley and Nessan Quinlivan. The pair were arrested in October 1990.

They shot their way out of Brixton Prison before their trial in 1991 and escaped. Quinlivan was jailed in Ireland in 1993 on firearms charges and was released three years later.

McAuley also went to prison in Ireland for killing detective Jerry McCabe during an armed raid on a post office van in County Limerick, in 1996 and was released in 2009. Hopes of the pair facing questions over Pte Davies' murder were dashed when the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction in the case of Sir Charles.

As the hunt for the killers of Robert Davies began on June 1, 1990, the defence secretary Tom King vowed: "They are not going to be allowed to hold this country to ransom or in terror."

Peter Bate, spokesman for Staffordshire Police, said: "While we are not actively investigating Pte Davies' murder, should new information come to light we will look into it."

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