The family of a part-time RUC officer murdered as he left hospital after visiting his new-born son 32 years ago have spoken of their relief after a convicted IRA man was found guilty of the killing.
John Proctor’s family said they have got some closure from the conviction of 54-year-old Seamus Martin Kearney, and praised the HET and police for helping them through the justice process.
“The process to seek justice, although difficult, has helped to bring truth - the facts and a level of understanding of what took place,” said Constable Proctor’s niece Lorna Torrence, in a statement on behalf of the family.
“Peace - peace to know that we have done all we can in the memory of Johnnie to seek justice. Healing - because of all of this to move forward, seeking a better future for the next generation. This is what processes like this allow families to do.”
Belfast Recorder, Judge David McFarland told Kearney, he was satisfied he was “either the gunman, the driver of the Ford Escort RS2000 (getaway car) or was an occupant of the car being present to provide support for the killing”.
Kearney, of Gorteade Road, Swatragh, Co Londonderry, had denied the murder of the 25-year-old reservist and possessing the Armalite AR15 assault rifle used to shoot him dead minutes after visiting his wife June, and new-born son, John Jr, at the Mid Ulster Hospital on September 14, 1981.
DNA found on a cigarette butt recovered from the scene later matched Kearney’s DNA profile and the Belfast Crown Court judge said in “all of the circumstances I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had smoked the cigarette and having finished it smoking it, discarded it at or about the time of the shooting”.
After Judge McFarland announced his guilty verdict, Mr Proctor’s widow June, wept, “I cant believe it ... I cant believe it”, while other members his family, including his sister, comforted one and other.
Speaking outside the court Reserve Constable Johnnie Proctor’s widow said the brutal murder of her husband had ripped the family apart.
“He was struck down and taken from us, from his family. He had a newborn son and another son at home,” she said. “The life was taken out of all of us as a family.
“I heard the gunshots and I knew it was him. I knew Johnnie was dead because I heard the number of shots they put in him. It wasn’t just one shot - they riddled him. I knew Johnnie’s life was over.
“As a family, we stayed together. As a family we were strong. We’ve been strong this last 32 years and we have waited patiently and now our day has come. I’m relieved that we have finally got justice.”
The policeman’s son, who was born just before his father was gunned down, said the family believed justice had been served.
Also called Johnnie, he said: “I’m happy the family can now have some closure, some justice, and can finally move on with our lives. It was 32 years past in September. I never got to meet my father. It’s so sad that I never got to meet the man that brought me into the world.”
The family statement said: “The family would like to take this opportunity to thank the HET and Serious Crime Team Branch and all who were involved for giving us a chance to seek justice where a great injustice was posed to our family.
“The life of John Proctor - although cut short by unjustly acts of a cowardly nature - will be remembered for his kindness, warmth and love for his family and his service in the RUC to maintain peace, law and order to which he lost his life.
“After all these years of heartache and pain, he will never be forgotten.
“The ripple effect of pain, suffering and anger that has stretched across our family has changed the lives of young and old forever. “
Although Kearney was told the only sentence for murder was life imprisonment, and while he is yet to hear what tariff is to be fixed on the sentence, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, he may only serve two years of the eventual sentence.
This is the second time that Kearney has been convicted of a terrorist gun attack.
In December 1984 Kearney was jailed for attempting to murder UDR soldiers, whose Land Rover came under fire from the same AR15 rifle used to kill Constable Proctor, as it drove through Swatragh in the direction of Maghera in November 1982.
In his 23-page judgement on Thursday the Diplock court judge said that those who murdered the Constable Proctor, known as ‘Johnnie’ to his family, had come “armed to kill and they executed their plan”.
“The gunman was there to fire the weapon, the driver of the car was there to remove gunman and the weapon....and any other occupant of the car would have been there to provide support either for the gunman, the driver or both. All the occupants of the car are guilty of murder.”
A tariff hearing, on Kearney’s life sentence, will be held next week.