Almost any date in Northern Ireland is the anniversary of a death from the Troubles. Often the less iconic are forgotten about. As such marking one event may be unfair to the relatives of the less well known about deaths. Sometimes, however, the anniversary is such that is should be marked.
This is the 20th anniversary of the Teebane murders. 20 years ago this evening a group of workmen were returning home from working on Lisanelly army base in Omagh: the bomb the IRA detonated killed 8 of them. The News Letter have been running a series of articles on the anniversary and the murders of two decades ago (the picture is from their coverage).
Jean Caldwell had been going to collect her husband from Omagh but they had agreed he would take the minibus that day instead. She doubts that an enquiry would achieve much but still wants justice for her murdered husband:
From the News Letter:
“At this stage I think it would be a waste of money,” said Mrs Caldwell.
“The money it would take for that to happen would be unbelievable. Are we going to get justice at the end of it? I think it would be like banging your head up against a brick wall.
“The only thing that has been done is the Historical Enquiries Team investigation, and I am pleased with the work they have done, but to me there is still a lot more to be done.”
Mrs Caldwell, who trained as a bereavement counsellor following her husband’s death, said that she has overcome her bitterness towards the IRA killers responsible, but said justice still needed to be done to help each family and survivor of the atrocity come to terms with the tragedy.
Another relative is Linda Clarke: her 22 year old brother was murdered.
Again from the News Letter:
“My father had died when I was two, so after Nigel died, it was just my mother and I.
“My mother is now 71 and won’t talk about it, she gets too annoyed.
“This year the 20th anniversary means a lot to us. However it is gut-wrenching to think that 20 years after my little brother was murdered we are still no closer to justice.
“Ten years ago we went to William McCrea and started asking questions. That was when we found out the police investigation had been closed.”
The Historical Enquiries Team has re-investigated the atrocity but Linda says the families have been left disappointed.
“The main feeling among the families is frustration,” she said.
“After all this time, still no one has been caught and now they say too much time has passed.”
Linda’s husband, DUP MLA Trevor Clarke, has challenged republicans to respond to what they did at Teebane 20 years ago.
“People have lost their lives. I condemn all murders both of Protestants and of Catholics,” he said.
“So I would like to hear what republicans now, who have condemned more recent atrocities, say now about Teebane.
“I accept that I am an MLA and sit in Stormont with republicans, which does upset my wife and I.
“I believe if republicans are genuine about wanting to move forward, if they have consciences, then they should give any information they have which could help bring the perpetrators to justice.
“We are sick, sore and tired hearing about demands for inquiries for atrocities like Bloody Sunday, Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane, yet no effort from our government to find resolution to the scores of people murdered in attacks carried out by the IRA.”
The HET report which has been seen by the News Letter does provide some information although the interview notes of the suspects have been damaged with asbestos. Nineteen pieces of evidence were recovered from the scene including sweet papers and a cigarette packet but they yielded no useful evidence even when subjected to new DNA tests. What it does record is that:
In terms of logistics the report finds that the Teebane bomb was placed overnight on Thursday 16 to Friday, January 17, placed to attack the van as it passed on the way to Omagh, but detonation was postponed due to fog.
While a bearded man was seen by a survivor Bobby O’Neill straight after the bomb detonated, a bearded man was also seen by witness L, a lorry driver at the bus stop at Teebane crossroads on the morning of the attack. Both assisted police in compiling a photo fit of the man. Witness L viewed photographs of the suspects but failed to identify anyone, while Mr O’Neill was never asked to view any photographs of suspects. HET says there is no explanation for this in the RUC investigation.
The paper edition of the News Letter noted that the bearded man walked past the dead and dying, looked at them and walked on. It also notes that house to house inquiries spoke to 221 people but only one piece of useful information was obtained. One resident told officers of four men- one of whom was a known IRA man- acting suspiciously around the area a week before the attack. The resident was, however, too fearful to provide a witness statement.
Rev Dr Willam McCrea led the service on Sunday at the site of the memorial to the murdered men which has itself been attacked on a number of occasions. He said that although the murderers seemed to have escaped justice in this life one day they would answer for their crimes.
As I observed above the 17th January is not only the anniversary of the Teebane murders but also that of 9 other murders from the Troubles. Loyalists murdered two people in a bomb in Sheridan’s bar in Belfast on the 17th January 1976; the IRA murdered two people when a bomb exploded on the Ballymena to Belfast train in 1980 (one IRA terrorist was also killed). In addition the IRA shot three people on this date and loyalist terrorists two.
Lest we forget.
This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.