This morning, on BBC’s Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme, I listened to yesterday’s Vixen blog writer, Julie Hambleton give an honest and moving interview in which she talked about her experience of fighting for justice on behalf of her sister, Maxine, who was murdered due to being blown up by an IRA bomb in Birmingham. Julie has along with others been fighting the might of a political and criminal justice system, weighted against them in respect of trying to bring those who planted the bombs- and those who directed the operation, to a place where they are convicted in a court of law. She was frustrated, understandably, by the recent revelations surrounding the OTR’s and by what she termed a “dirty deal” between Sinn Féin, the IRA, and the British Government.
Kenny Donaldson, from Innocent Victims United was also on the programme. In response to a question asked by host Wendy Austin, as to whether the collective of victims he represents believes that soldiers involved in the killings on Bloody Sunday should be prosecuted; he stated their position – that anyone involved in breaking the law, should have the evidence placed before a court. He said that while everyone is entitled to a fair trial, if there is evidence to suggest that people have been involved in crimes, then they should be prosecuted accordingly. It was a welcome step.
Welcome, because in the last few days, there have been calls in the public domain from people such as Peter Hain, that soldiers involved in these particular shootings should not be pursued in light of the “On the Run” letters.
The logic in this is perverse. You are either for the rule of law, or you are against it. If you abide by the law, then you should believe unequivocally that if people are involved in acts of murder, then those people should of course be pursued. And, if the evidence exists, they should of course be prosecuted. And, if found guilty, then they should be sentenced accordingly. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Victims of murder are entitled under ECHR legislation to have a proper and full investigation into their death. History has shown us in Northern Ireland, that these rights have not always been afforded to victims. That is wrong – but does it mean that we should all just draw a line in the sand, and bury our heads in it also?
People are right to warn victims, who have hoped for a much better service from the agencies supposed to uphold the rule of law and order, that the likelihood is, in a large number of cases, that there is a very real danger that they will not see justice done, much less be seen to be done. A handful of pre 98 cases have been prosecuted since the Agreement. However, does this mean that the agencies responsible should stop all evidence gathering?
Perhaps one way to put pressure on the relevant agencies is to adopt a different approach. Community inquiries, and mock trials have been staged in the past, in order to both test evidence and gather it. They have been effective tools at highlighting gaps in the criminal justice system, and leads that have not been followed. Perhaps some victims organisations could methodically work through past cases, and hold open days for witnesses to come forward, and document evidence accordingly. Of course, it shouldn’t be left to victims, but in the absence of any proper or thorough investigations into the murder of their loved ones, it is a solution which may suit some.
Relatives of those shot dead by the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy are calling on both the British and Irish Government to fund a panel chaired by former police Ombudsman, Nuala O Loan to hear and assess evidence related to the event. Styled on the Hillsborough Inquiry Panel, Phil Scratton and lawyer Gareth Pierce would make up the remainder of those assessing evidence. In the absence of either Government providing funds, either those who have been requested should provide their services for free, or the families should mount a fundraising campaign. They shouldn’t have to, of course, but such is life in Northern Ireland. If you want anything done in relation to matters of justice for murder, you must do it yourself.
The Omagh families proved this when they were let down by almost everyone in positions of power. Undeterred, and looking for solutions, they took those they believed responsible to civil proceedings. It was costly, and it took years, but justice, in some way, in a civil setting, was seen to be done. Victims have recourse to this route, when they know who the perpetrators are, and if they can garner the funds. It is much more difficult for those who do not have information in relation to who murdered their loved ones.
There is another way of dealing with this On the Run debacle. If the British Government has committed itself to not pursuing certain people it believes to have been a member of an illegal organisation, or of committing criminal acts, then the Irish Government could assess the information, and pursue those still living south of the border, and charge with whatever evidence exists. The Irish State has a history in not extraditing people in relation to such activity over the years – but – if, as it has stated, it supports victims of violence, this avenue is available to them to do something about it.
Kenny Donaldson was right today in stating that anyone who commits an illegal act should be investigated. That is the fundamental right to justice that all victims should have. There should be no distinction made. Murder is murder. It shouldn’t matter whether you were shot by an IRA man or woman, by a member of a Loyalist Group, as a result of collusion by either Government, or by the British Army. If a perpetrator of violence broke the law, then they should be held accountable within its realms of delivering justice. Once the law is cherrypicked, then it might as well not exist. Victims who are no longer living as a result of violence perpetrated upon them all bleed the same. Their relatives all hurt the same. And the people who killed them should be brought to book, all equally pursued.
For many years now, I have watched and listened to the victims sector on all sides, champion the cause of one side;but refuse to condemn the other. This is also wrong. Wouldn’t it be inherently more powerful if victims championed not only their rights, but defended the rights of others to do the same? How powerful a message that would be to those who prefer to sweep murder under the carpet in pursuit of a fabricated imperfect peace. How much more potent a message would be delivered if all victims stood shoulder to shoulder, and fought tooth and nail for every persons attempt to have the truth outed in relation to the murder of their loved one?
That is why Kenny Donaldson’s message was so important today. Unequivocally sending out a message that violence is wrong, and that if you break the law, you should be pursued.
The best thing that victims could do to make their voices heard, is to shelve their own prejudices, and fight, not only for themselves, but for every last victim out there, no matter what the circumstances of anyone’s murder. No matter who the perpetrators. Murder is murder. That is the message that should be sent to all of those in positions of power.
Benjamin Franklin once said “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Collectively, victims have a much more powerful voice than individually fractured ones. Use it to highlight any and all injustices. If the agencies will not achieve justice or closure for you, make them aware that you will hold them to account, on behalf of every single last person to whom justice has so far, been denied.
Those who can no longer speak for themselves, deserve nothing less.