New support service to help victims of loss

AN Ulster woman whose father and sister were brutally murdered 16 years ago said that her own experience of the lack of support for those left behind by non-Troubles related murders has driven her to establish a unique bereavement group.

Pam Surphlis' campaign to bring sufficient support services to Northern Ireland took 10 years. It led to SAMM NI (Support after Murder and Manslaughter Northern Ireland) being officially launched yesterday morning at Antrim Civic Centre by Criminal Justice Minister Paul Goggins.

He praised the work of the organisation, which has been operating in England and Wales for around 18 years, through members and volunteers who have all lost someone through murder or manslaughter.

In December 1992, the bodies of Ms Surphlis' sister, Judith and her father, the Rev Eric Davidson, were found in her father's burnt-out Cookstown home.

Judith's estranged husband, RUC Constable Alan Anderson, was initially convicted of the murder, but was later cleared on appeal.

Ms Surphlis said the first few years after their deaths had been the most difficult.

"In the first four years I was so caught up with the trial – one trial ended, then the conviction was quashed on appeal because of a legal technicality – in those years we were caught up in that activity," she said.

"But there was still insatiable rage, anger and depression. You just felt very angry at people telling you they knew what you were feeling, when you knew they didn't, and also people saying, 'time heals', because it doesn't, it just gives you more coping skills."

Four years later, she was so worn down that she didn't even leave her home for six months, but it was during this time Ms Surphlis was given information about SAMM in England.

"I had tried various other organisations, but because it wasn't linked to the Troubles they didn't want to know," she said.

She said the mutual understanding you get from someone who has experienced the same thing is invaluable.

"The man I spoke to in SAMM; he had lost his sister through murder as well, but he was understanding and reassuring. I think it's the reassurance, the feelings we have are mutual and real in the situation which helps, because you do feel very isolated, you think this happens to no one else and you don't realise that's what trauma does to you," she said.

She said that this comfort drove her to fight to establish the organisation in Northern Ireland.

Since then Pam has spent 10 years campaigning to set up SAMM NI, gaining training qualifications. Two years ago money was secured from the NIO to carry out a feasibility study into establishing a local SAMM network. It proved successful, and they gained 2,000 funding from the PSNI.

They help around 35 families and hope to expand to home visits and more hands-on services. They are reliant on donations and fundraising. The launch was aimed at officially opening the organisation and promoting its services.

Pam said the comfort people get from knowing they are not alone is "unbelievable," but said the pain never goes away.