Flu victim's family in tribute to their 'rock'

HUNDREDS of mourners gathered at the weekend to pay their final respects to Ulster's first swine flu fatality, part time soldier Lee Porter.

The 30-year-old fireman and TA Bombardier's hometown of Coleraine was brought to a standstill on Saturday as family and friends said goodbye to their "rock".

Mr Porter passed away in hospital in Surrey on July 31 from respiratory failure and pneumonia, caused by the swine flu virus.

He had contracted the virus after travelling to Bisley in England with his TA batallion shooting team.

Despite earlier reports from the Ministry of Defence, Mr Porter's family said he had no underlying health problems and had completed a full Army medical in May of this year.

His mother Esther and father Ross were on holiday in the United States when they were told Lee had taken ill but flew to Surrey to be at their son's bedside while he battled the virus on a life support machine for two weeks.

During his funeral service at Coleraine First Presbyterian Church, mourners heard how Mr Porter contributed heavily to his community.

Employed full time for the Northern Ireland Fire Service, he had been involved with the Territorial Army since the age of 18 and had also progressed to the rank of Company Sergeant in the Army Cadet Force.

In a statement, Mr Porter's family said: "He was very much a man who understood the meaning of the word 'service' and contributed so much to the nation.

"Lee had time for everyone around him and took great interest in all of us. He was big-hearted and witty with a caring nature.

"He was very sensitive to the needs of others, was compassionate, generous and a true friend to all.

"We have not only lost a son, a brother and a friend but the rock of our family."

Mr Porter's coffin was carried by his TA colleagues at Portstewart Cemetery where he was laid to rest after fellow soldiers fired a salute.

The 28th person to die after contracting swine flu in England, it is believed Mr Porter is the first serviceman to fall victim to the virus.

He is survived by his mother Esther, father Ross and younger brother Jason.