Images of blood-soaked seats and bullet holes in upholstery from the scene of the Greysteel massacre helped shock people into the reality of murder scenes and start to pave the way to peace, former RUC Inspector Norman Hamill said yesterday.
The 65-year-old former head of the press office said he was one of the first police officers to arrive at the scene.
“People were dead and dying inside the bar, some of whom I knew because I lived in the area,” he said.
“I knew three of the people, two of them died and one was badly injured. I’d given one of them a lift home a few nights before. People inside the bar were in terrible shock and were very wary of strangers coming in.”
Mr Hamill, who had attended many Troubles incidents, said what he saw in Greysteel was “very bad”.
He said the days following the incident were “very busy and involved handling an enormous media response”.
He added: “It came so soon after the Shankill bomb. Greysteel was a turning point. It was a watershed moment in the Troubles because it came so soon after Shankill that it brought home to people that violence was leading nowhere, and really only leading to more violence. That seemed to register with people more than ever before.
“I spent some time afterwards negotiating with CID because as a press officer I felt that quite often violence was sanitised for the public, so I negotiated quite hard with them to allow some cameras inside the bar to see blood-soaked seats and bullet holes in the upholstery.
“Those images later went around the world and are still used today. In a modest way those images helped to reinforce what a horrible incident it was. It was a turning point and I like to think that Greysteel was the beginning of the end of the Troubles.”
Four men convicted in connection with the atrocity – Stephen Irwin, Geoffrey Deeney, Torrens Knight and Brian McNeill – were released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 2000.
Irwin was jailed again in 2005 over a knife attack and Knight returned to jail for an attack on two women in 2010. Both have since been re-released, Irwin only in recent months.