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The state made no effort to apprehend my brother's killers

(Sharon O'Neill, Irish News)

With over 1,800 murders spanning the troubles unsolved, Chief Reporter Sharon O'Neill uncovers disturbing new information as she speaks to families from both sides of the community desperate for 'closure'.

At just 17 Patrick McCullough couldn't believe his luck when he got a job as an apprentice compositor with the Irish News.

For the teenager, despite his young years, had already been through more than many twice his age.

Born with spina bifida, Patrick was the eldest of 15 children, one of whom died at birth, and his remarkable courage shone through from early on.

His father, George, recalls: "It was unbelievable. He didn't have a very good time of it.

"When he was born, we broke our hearts. He had major surgery at eight months old and was stitched from one side to the other – 40 stitches.

"Back then only one in a million spina bifida children survived. The man who operated on him was killed (in a road crash) four weeks after he operated on Patrick."

In 1969, when he was 14, Patrick almost died trying to save his younger brother, Gerard, who drowned during a family holiday at Ballyhoran, Co Down.

But he was cruelly cheated of a second chance at life three years later by loyalists intent on sectarian murder – the innocence of their prey of no consequence.

On the night of June 23 1972, Patrick was with a group of young Catholics including his girlfriend, standing chatting outside a bank at the corner of Atlantic Avenue in north Belfast, not far from his home.

It is still a regular meeting spot for Catholic teenagers, but is located on the corner of a road which on numerous occasions has proved to be an easy escape route for both UVF and UDA killers and would-be murderers.

Loyalist gunmen opened fire from the safety of their getaway car, hitting Patrick and his 14-year-old friend, who collapsed to the ground bleeding.

Despite his proven resilience, Patrick's injuries were too severe and a priest administered the last rites at the scene. His friend survived.

Patrick was murdered during one of the most turbulent years of the Troubles, when killings were daily and efforts at brokering ceasefires shattered with every life lost.

Patrick's mother, Cassie, who was three months pregnant at the time, had earlier returned from a break in Co Antrim to attend a wedding.

"I had just arrived at about 7.30pm and Patrick was here (in the house). He came out of the kitchen and handed me a big rose and says 'I found this for you at the bottom of the Cavehill Road'," she says.

"I have a great devotion to St Therese and said to Patrick 'Oh my God Patrick, that is absolutely beautiful'.

"He made me a cup of tea, put on his jacket and said to me: 'I'm going down to the Novena in Holy Family, I'll see you down there'.

"He left before me, it was the last time I saw him.

"Myself and a neighbour were coming out of the chapel at around 10pm and a crowd of people rushed over shouting 'go back in, go back in, there's shooting out there'.

"We went back in and said the Rosary. I didn't know at that time about Patrick. We walked home and as I arrived at my house the priest was standing in the hallway and I shouted 'there's something wrong, there's something wrong'.

"I was taken to hospital after going into shock because I was three months pregnant with my daughter Patricia."

Cassie's husband rushed to his son after receiving a phone call about the shooting. Another son, Jim, was already there.

"Nobody told me what had happened other than 'it's your Patrick'," says George.

"Patrick was dead in the ambulance. He was shot through the heart. It was a terrible shock. I was completely dumbfounded.

"A girl was injured and so was his other friend, who was reported as saying at the time that he could identify the guy who did it.

"His friend saw the car coming round the corner and saw the window being wound down and shouted 'Patrick duck, duck'. He was later injured in two separate shootings, they (loyalists) tried to murder him."

Although no-one admitted responsibility, it is believed the UVF was behind the murder and further inquiries by the Irish News have established that the identity of the killers was well known, yet not one person was arrested or charged.

"Paddy was a happy-go-lucky fella, he was only a kid. Everyone was devastated when he was killed," said an Irish News employee, who had worked with Patrick.

Cassie adds: "He was great, very thoughtful and set an example for the rest of the children. He supervised them all and looked after the younger ones.

"He never, ever did anybody a bad turn in his life."

With a baby on the way and a squad of children, the next days, weeks, in-deed years were a blur for the couple.

"It was some experience I can tell you," says Cassie.

"It was the other children – they were traumatised. We were trying to explain what had happened, but they were all so young then. It was very difficult.

"If they (the killers) had only realised the heartache they brought, not only to us but to our children and how much they took away from us.

"Paddy Wilson (the SDLP politician) came here shortly after Patrick was shot, a short time later he was away himself (murdered by the UFF)."

The family's anguish was compounded when four weeks after Patrick was murdered, their home was raided by the RUC and British army.

"Our parish priest was here at the time, sympathising with us after four weeks and the police and army raided the house," says Cassie.

"I said to a policeman, 'what is the idea of this? and he replied 'Let's just say you have a good neighbour'. Those were his exact words.

"That wasn't true, nobody here would have said anything about us, especially to the police."

Guiding their children through life and enjoying to the full their ever-expanding brood of grandchildren, the passage of time may have dulled their immediate sense of pain.

"I've learned to live with it and know Patrick is happy," says Cassie.

"At that particular time, I was three months pregnant. If I hadn't been pregnant I think I would have gone mad but I had to keep my cool under the circumstances. I was afraid something would happen to the baby."

"You forgive but you never forget," says George.

"In fact we were numbed by the whole thing for a number of years. I'm sure there are hundreds of other families in the same boat."

With their busy household dwindling over recent years the McCulloughs have started to question the RUC investigation into Patrick's death.

They know their story is only too familiar among thousands of families whose loved ones from both communities were killed during the troubles, but like others, they point to their entitlement to a proper police investigation.

"Those who killed Patrick probably killed numerous other people during the years," says George.

"There was an inquest. We barely remember it as we were in a daze the whole time.

"We do remember it was an open verdict, death by shooting. Nothing was mentioned about the investigation or who carried out the murder.

"We never heard anything from police or whether they investigated it."

Indeed, as police prepare to set up a special team to review more than 1,800 unsolved murders, it can be revealed that the McCullough's were only told five years ago – 23 years after Patrick's killing – that the investigation file was destroyed in an attack on an RUC station in 1975.

In fact the RUC only told relatives when Patrick's brother, Jim, a barrister, made his own inquiries through police.

"At that particular time my children were too young to do anything about it (the police investigation). Jim and George, they were the oldest boys at the time," says George.

"Obviously as Jim got older he thought about it. Many files have gone missing over the last 30 years, they didn't care what happened to it.

"Files disappeared from their own barracks, notes were destroyed and lost. There was a corrupt element within the police force.

"There was also a large degree of carelessness and incompetence.

"The car used in Patrick's murder was found burnt out in Snugville Street on the Shankill Road. At least three cars were found in Snugville Street after similar murders.

"Snugville is very close to Tennent Street police station and near where the army was based. I always wondered if there was any link, if there was military involvement, the dirty-tricks brigade."

Jim McCullough recalled his discussions with police in 1998 and was told that given the security situation at the time one incident overtook the other.

"You would imagine there would be some sort of record. There was no record of a criminal investigation," says Mr McCullough.

"In our particular case he (a police officer) said the murder squad at that time was based in Ballynafeigh RUC station and in 1975 Ballynafeigh was bombed and written records destroyed.

"The only thing available as regards a record of what happened to Patrick is the coroner's court inquest.

"Our complaint is if somebody gets killed, there is a police record of it in some description.

"There has been no effort on behalf of the state to investigate that murder and hundreds of others like it.

"My brother was a citizen of the state, he is entitled to his rights.

"It was part of the crime that was perpetrated against all of the people in the north by the very state in which they were citizens."

Despite the family's concerns, George believes the police are "changing for the better", but also expressed disbelief at the police failure to bring charges against sectarian killers in recent years amid an improved security situation.

"Every murder I hear or read about my heart goes out to them (the families), every one of them. Some of them were so atrocious, I wonder how their parents cope with it," he says.

"In the earlier days of the troubles, it was new to them (the police), but it is not new to them now.

"They should be able to cope with it better now than they were then. It's like school. When you start to learn, you get better. They should now be able to catch these people."

And his son's case? "I want to know what happened to Patrick's files and why there was no duplicate.

"Why did no-one come here to explain to us or let us know what was being done.

"We just want to know why he was killed and why there was no proper investigation.

"If they (the police) are ever going to get respect from the Catholic community, they will have to do something or admit that there were elements within the police force that got rid of stuff."

Much as been documented about finding 'closure' for relatives of unsolved historic murders.

But the horrors of the past are not so easy to lay to rest and the couple, both now 72, recall a recent encounter between another son, a priest living in South Africa, and a paramedic who worked in Belfast.

Father Joseph was concelebrating at a Mass in May for a murdered priest in Durban and was approached by a man afterwards.

"He said to Joseph 'are you from Belfast?' and asked him did he know a young man who was shot dead on the Antrim Road and Joseph told him it was his brother," says Cassie.

"He was a top paramedic. He told Joseph he was in the ambulance that night and did all he could for Patrick.

"He started to cry and told Joseph that shortly after, he left Belfast and moved to South Africa."

September 20, 2003
________________

This article appeared first in the September 19, 2003 edition of the Irish News.


This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News



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