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No justice for mobile shop murder families after evidence is destroyed

(Suzanne Breen, Sunday World)

The picture that broke a mother's heart - teenager Eileen Duffy lies in her coffin wearing the beautiful cream dress she'd bought to go to dances.

But Eileen was brutally slain by loyalist paramilitaries weeks later so instead she was buried in her best dress.

The 19-year-old was gunned down in a horrific triple murder as she worked in a mobile shop in Craigavon 20 years ago.

Her killer, whose name is known to Sunday World, has never been charged. He freely walks the streets of Portadown.

Eileen's family fear he'll never face justice because this week's admission that police files in Armagh's Gough barracks have been destroyed – allegedly because of contamination with asbestos – means any evidence linking him to the murder is gone.

Grief-stricken Olive Duffy gave the never before published photo of her dead daughter to Sunday World. "I want the world to see what I have to live with every day. My beautiful girl left the house laughing and smiling to go to work that night. She came home in a coffin," Olive said, breaking down in tears.

"I can't get over it. I see friends she went to school with and they're grown up with children of their own. My Eileen was denied all that happiness. She's now dead longer that she was alive. I just want her back."

Eileen was known as 'Angel Eyes' because of her big brown eyes and loving personality. Her memorial card is always with her mother. 'A bouquet of beautiful memories sprayed with a million tears. Wishing God could have spared you if just for a few more years,' it says.

Katrina Rennie (16) and Brian Frizzell (29) were also killed in the atrocity by the UVF's Mid-Ulster Brigade on 28 March 1991. It was ordered by King Rat Billy Wright.

There are allegations of security force collusion. Earlier that week, the shop's owner had told UDR men he couldn't serve them because of the area. Locals noted that, on the night of the shooting, the normally heavy local police presence had disappeared.

Eileen's brother, Brendan Duffy, said: "In Dublin, London, or anywhere else, the authorities would do everything possible to convict the killer of two teenage girls and a young man. But this is Northern Ireland. Our search for justice has been thwarted at every twist and turn with a massive cover-up."

This week, the PSNI announced that all records of interviews with suspects in key murder investigations from 1985 to 1993 had been destroyed because they'd been kept in an asbestos-contaminated store.

Police claimed they'd got rid of the files in 1998 on "health and safety" grounds. They acknowledged alternatives to destroying the documents – without copying them first -were considered but were ruled out for "cost reasons".

Brendan Duffy said: "It stinks to high heaven. I can't see why someone wearing anti-asbestos clothing couldn't have photocopied or scanned the files prior to their disposal.

"The documents were destroyed 13 years ago. Why hadn't the police the decency to tell our family this at the time? And how could they bin vital files without seeking permission from the courts or giving public notification? It seems they're completely unaccountable."

Eileen Duffy came from a family of five. "She was only 11 months younger than me so we were very close," says Brendan. "We started school the same day and made our First Communion and Confirmation together. I can still see us as kids sitting together under the Christmas tree opening our presents.

"She was the kindest hearted wee girl you'd ever meet. She'd give you her last penny. She was always laughing and wanting to make people happy. She saw bad in nobody. She played camogie for the local GAA club, Eire Og. She was proud to be Irish but she'd no interest in politics."

Eileen was working behind the counter in the mobile shop in Craigavon's nationalist Drumbeg Estate when the gunman struck. Her friend Katrina Rennie was sitting on a crate and a 14-year-old Jamie Smith was at the counter, blissfully unaware of the imminent danger.

They girls were chatting about boys and music when a van pulled up. A masked gunman in a military-style jacket, armed with a 9mm Browning pistol, jumped out.

"Provisional IRA, hit the floor!" he yelled. Some customers managed to run away but the three girls were trapped. "The gunman dragged Jamie by the hair and called her a Fenian slut. Then, he threw her out of the shop, says Brendan Duffy.

"In his sick mind, it was ok to shoot a 16- and a 19-year-old but not a 14-year-old. Eileen screamed, 'Run Jamie love, run!' Those were her last words." The gunman shot Eileen and Katrina from close range. Plumber Brian Frizzell was heading into buy cigarettes when he encountered the killer. He too was slain.

"Our family lived near the shop so I was there in minutes," says Brendan Duffy, recalling the horrific scene. "Brian Frizzell was lying in a pool of blood. Katrina was still sitting on the crate. She was dead but her blue eyes were wide open and there was a bullet wound on her neck. Eileen was slumped on the floor, shot in the head.

"Her face was badly swollen and blood was pumping out of her head and ears. I tried to resuscitate her but in my heart I knew she was gone. I was so numb, I couldn't cry."

Olive Duffy ran to the shop. "I didn't want my mother to look at that awful scene but she said she had to. She broke down when she saw Eileen lying dead," Brendan says.

He's deeply critical of the police's alleged behaviour that night: "They took almost half an hour to get to the scene when it was a five-minute walk from the police station.

"Then, they arrived at our house and ordered me to lie on the floor and show how Eileen had been lying dead. It was very insensitive. The only contact we had with police after that was when we were asked if we wanted Eileen's blood-drenched clothes back. We never heard from the police again. They weren't interested 20 years ago and they're still not interested now."

The jewellery Eileen was wearing when she was murdered was returned to her family. Her rings went to close friends, her gold chain and crucifix to her sister. Olive treasured her daughter's watch, inserting Eileen's photo behind the glass.

The attack was planned by Billy Wright and fellow UVF murderer, Mark Swinger Fulton, in a flat in Portadown's loyalist Corcrain Estate.

Loyalist sources told Sunday World the gunman involved was behind many more killings in Mid-Ulster. From 1989-94, the UVF slaughtered 43 people in a 'murder triangle' encompassing Lurgan, Craigavon and Portadown.

Unlike Wright and Fulton, the mobile shop gunman never became a household name. He has no paramilitary convictions and always kept a low profile. "He's a protected species because he was a British agent," says one loyalist source. The gunman, now in his 40s, today claims to be a respectable born-again Christian. He is heavily involved in a local Pentecostal church.

Only one man was ever convicted of the triple murder. James Thomas Harper from Portadown served six years in jail for his part as the driver. Regarded in loyalist circles as "small fry", he was freed under the Good Friday Agreement.

A Facebook page honours Eileen's memory. There are tributes to 'Auntie Eileen' from the nieces and nephews she barely had time to know, and those born after her death. And every year, on her birthday, the school friends who have never forgotten her leave heart-felt messages saying how much she's missed.

September 22, 2011

This article appeared in the September 18, 2011 edition of the Sunday World.

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