A woman whose parents were murdered in the Shankill bomb 20 years ago has written a heartfelt letter to the family of bomber Thomas Begley urging them to call off a commemoration service and the unveiling of a plaque to their son.
Michelle Williamson, 47, whose parents George and Gillian died as they shopped in Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road on October 23, 1993, yesterday delivered a letter addressed to Begley’s parents – Sadie and Billy – to Sinn Fein’s office in north Belfast.
Begley also died in the blast.
In the handwritten letter, Ms Williamson explains to the Begleys that “this has not been an easy letter to write as I am sure you will appreciate”, but that she “had to write to you personally to appeal to you directly as parents who lost their child as a child who lost her parents”.
Appealing for them to “stop this public commemoration” of “a man who killed my mam and dad along with seven other innocent people”, Ms Williamson said the unveiling of the plaque “is a sick and cruel insult to the memory of our loved ones”.
The letter adds: “I have no problem in acknowledging your loss. Your pain is the same as mine, but the cause is very different.
“My mam and dad were killed when they went to get some fish for their tea. Your son was there to kill and maim as many people as he could, not a hero but a killer.
“I don’t blame you or your family in any way for your son’s actions. I believed you when you said recently that you would have stopped him if you could have. Unfortunately you couldn’t. But you can stop the public event even if, as you say, your family is not organising it. I am sure if you call publicly to Sinn Fein and your local community and friends to respect your wishes and privacy by cancelling this commemoration I am sure they would listen to you.”
In the letter, Ms Williamson, a mother-of-one, points out to the Begley family that “the IRA wrecked both our lives” and adds “don’t let it happen again”.
She adds: “I am not saying you shouldn’t remember him, Thomas was your son after all, but please do it in private and not in public. Please don’t add to our pain.”
Last week Sean Begley – brother of Thomas – told the News Letter that the “unveiling of a plaque to my brother was not organised by our family”. The commemoration has been planned for this Sunday.
He said his family were aware of the hurt caused by the Shankill bomb and “are very sorry for what happened”. “My parents – Billy and Sadie – are annoyed,” he said. He added that the family “will be going to the commemoration to remember Thomas. It is a quick remembrance to say we are still thinking of him.”
After leaving the letter into Sinn Fein’s Antrim Road offices Ms Williamson told the News Letter that she found the letter difficult to write.
“The letter is from the heart,” she said. “I wrote it about three times. His mother and father could not be responsible for what he did, but had to live with it.
“Maybe they will have some compassion and actually stop the event, which would go a long way to helping heal the wounds of the victims.”
She said she had hoped the 20th anniversary of the Shankill bomb “would be a turning point for me to realise life is too short and I have to move on in my own way”.
“But this has set me right back to the very day it happened,” she said. “This is our day and it should not be tainted and stained by a commemoration to a dead bomber.
“I was 27 years old when it happened and I was still living at home with my mother and father. We had moved into a new house the previous day. Little did I know when I said goodbye to my mother that morning I would never see her again. That is something I will never come to terms with. I will never forgive and forget what the IRA did to me. The wounds are very raw for me at the moment.”
Ms Williamson, who has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress, said her parents – from Lisburn – had stopped on the Shankill to buy material for the new house to make curtains and had “dropped into Frizzell’s for fish for their tea”.
“I am now the same age as my mother was when she was murdered, and I never thought I would see this age and the 20th anniversary of the Shankill bomb,” she said.
Last night when the News Letter contacted the Begley family home, Thomas’ father Billy said they were “not making any comment today”.