Bereaved families voice hurt and anger at Troubles ‘amnesty’ plan

Reports suggest the UK Government is set to introduce a statute of limitations on prosecutions for conflict crimes that occurred pre-1998.

Charlene Smyth
Charlene Smyth

Families bereaved in Northern Ireland’s troubled past have reacted with hurt and anger to plans to prevent future prosecutions over their murders.

The bar on prosecutions would apply across the board, including former security force members and paramilitaries, but an exemption would still enable war crimes, such as torture, to be prosecuted, according to reports.

Mark Kelly, who was a teenager when he saw his 12-year-old sister Carol-Ann die after being struck in the back of the head by a plastic bullet in Belfast in 1981, described the idea as “absolutely disgraceful”.

He said there has never been a full investigation into what happened to his sister and no-one has been brought to justice.

He told the PA news agency: “When I heard the news, I was just so angry, I felt like I did on the day Carol-Ann was killed… I think I am even more angry now than I was then.

“It is absolutely disgraceful. It is so frustrating and there are hundreds of families like mine… we’re being told my sister’s life is not worth an investigation.

“Carol-Ann would have been 52 now, she had no life and for no reason.

“What I want to see is an investigation and the British soldier responsible brought before the courts to face the justice system.”

Mr Kelly called for the Irish Government and the European Union to speak up.

“The Irish Government don’t want to rock the boat. The EU are still chasing people from the Second World War but in the north of Ireland they are allowing the British Government to get away with it,” he said.

“It is absolutely scandalous.”

Margaret Valente was 31 with four children in 1980 when her husband Peter, 33, was killed by the IRA.

He was missing for three days before police visited her home and told her he was dead. It took five months before it was verified that the IRA was responsible.

Northern Ireland Troubles
Margaret Valente’s husband Peter was killed by the IRA in Belfast in 1980 (Brian Lawless/PA)

Now the case is among those being examined by former Bedfordshire chief constable Jon Boutcher.

Mrs Valente said: “I want to know what happened to him, why was he called an informer when he wasn’t? When someone says tout or informer, it stabs my heart.

“I just want to know what happened, I don’t want anybody to be jailed, they’d be 80 now, there is no point jailing someone in their 80s.

“It’s very important for me to tell my story, you have to stand up for the murdered people, you have to give them a voice.”

Charlene Smyth was an infant when her father Charlie McGrillen, 26, was killed by the UFF in 1988.

She said: “In the 33 years since he has been dead, no-one has come to tell us anything, we’re just meant to forget about it, swept under the carpet, an innocent man who went out to work and never came home.

“In those 33 years I have grown up without my daddy, gone to school without my daddy, I’ve had boyfriends that my daddy should have given the once over, I’ve graduated and my daddy didn’t walk me down the aisle.

“But somebody out there who pulled the trigger got to do all that with their children and got to see their grandchildren.

“I just want an investigation into my daddy’s death, as does my mummy, as does all these other families, we may not get the prosecutions that we want but we want an investigation to lay bare the facts, to get some truth.”

Northern Ireland Troubles
Charlene Smyth with a photo of herself as a baby with her father Charlie McGrillen, who was killed by the UFF in 1988 (Brian Lawless/PA)

She described those calling for a line to be drawn on the past as “ignorant and insensitive”.

“We’re talking about people’s lives, people that have died,” she said. “People who say these things, to put that behind us, this type of thing hasn’t touched their lives.

“Our lives were turned upside down, I should have a daddy here today to celebrate his 60th birthday.

“How can you draw a line under it when families have not been given closure, a lot of families don’t know what happened to their loved ones, and for someone to say that is downright ignorant and insensitive.”

Mark Thompson, chief executive of victims group Relatives for Justice, accused the UK Government of having “no principles, no scruples and no morals”.

He added: “They are entirely prepared to undermine the rule of law and the rights of victims.

“In a transitional society emerging from conflict where criminal justice requires particular transparency and functioning for all citizens, this amnesty plan will undermine confidence in systems of justice.

“This contemptible proposal is the antithesis of reconciliation.”

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