Ballygawley bomb 30 years on: ‘I am not bitter – I mainly feel guilty I could not save more’

A soldier inspects the remains of the coach in which eight of his colleagues died in the IRA bomb attack at Ballygawley in 1988
A soldier inspects the remains of the coach in which eight of his colleagues died in the IRA bomb attack at Ballygawley in 1988

A survivor of the Ballygawley bus bombing, which took place 30 years ago today, is not bitter towards the IRA men who killed eight of his friends, but mainly feels guilty that he could not save more of his colleagues.

Richard Jutsum, 56, survived the IRA attack which claimed the lives of eight colleagues on August 20 1988, injuring 19 others, including himself.

Richard Jutsum was one of 19 soldiers injured in the Ballygawley bombing

Richard Jutsum was one of 19 soldiers injured in the Ballygawley bombing

They were returning from leave and were targeted at Ballygawley as they made their way from Belfast airport to their base in Omagh.

Mr Jutsum, who now lives in Lincolnshire, still suffers hearing and eyesight damage and arthritis as a result of the attack.

He was asleep in the very front seat of the coach when the explosion took place. “I thought we had arrived at the guard room and the driver had braked too hard,” he said.

As the coach skidded he was thrown out the door and down a bank. “I came to and the first thing I thought was that I had lost my teeth.”

Ken Maginnis met Margaret Thatcher the day after the bombing

Ken Maginnis met Margaret Thatcher the day after the bombing

IRA THREATENED FAMILY OF SURGEON WHO TREATED SURVIVORS

His mouth was full of glass pieces from the bus door. He then scrambled up the bank to his colleagues.

“As I got to the coach, although everything was in pitch blackness, two of the tires were burning, which generated some light. It was total devastation.

“At that point I realise that we had been involved in some sort of bomb attack. My senses started to come back and we just started trying to get people off the coach.”

He suffered blast injuries.

“It became apparent we had more casualties than we could deal with because the guys had been strewn over the whole scene of the explosion.”

He went to phone for help and when he arrived back a bus load of marching band members had stopped to help.

“It was an absolute Godsend because we just couldn’t cope.”

The soldiers on the bus were good friends or “one big family”.

Richard came across a skiing buddy. “He had really bad leg injuries. I took my belt off and tried to use it as a tourniquet but that didn’t really work.” However, his friend survived and is doing “very well” today.

As he walked through the scene he caught sight of a nearby house which he made his way towards to phone his unit.

“I arrived down there and apparently I kept collapsing. The mother in the house was really upset to see me covered in blood and cuts. I felt really guilty for upsetting her.”

His recollection is that it was very quiet, but in retrospect he since learned that there were screams of pain.

Now an Army recruiter, he does retain some anger towards the bombers. Nobody was ever convicted of the attack.

“However, the overwhelming feeling is probably guilt rather than bitterness. Guilt that I couldn’t help more of the lads at the scene.”

Thanks to victims’ group the South East Fermanagh Foundation, he is in touch with many of his former colleagues. Although they focus on the good times when they meet up, “some are “incredibly angry and very bitter” about the bombing.

But his final message is one of gratitude. For security reasons they could not send thank-you messages to all those that helped them at the time.

“I just really want to say thank you to all those that helped us on that night,” he added.

Meanwhile, a civil action against Lord Maginnis in relation to an SAS shooting in the aftermath of the bombing appears to have gone cold after three years, he has said.

Brothers Gerard and Martin Harte, with Brian Mullin, were armed and on an IRA operation when the SAS killed them near Drumnakilly 10 days after the Ballygawley bombing.

Their families claimed they could have been arrested and said they had been victims of a “shoot to kill” policy. As a former UDR officer, Lord Maginnis said he knew they were leading local IRA figures and told Margaret Thatcher the day after Ballygawley that they should be closely watched.

“The only indication I had of the legal action was a letter from a solicitor that said that they were also suing the police and Northern Ireland Office,” he said last night. “I threw it to one side and never thought about it again.”

Lord Maginnis was on the scene of the bombing and led a team which found four or five shell-shocked soldiers who had wandered away, one of whom then died.

Ex-RUC inspector Howard Thornton was also quickly on the scene.

“The whole thing about the incident was that it was pitch black in the dead of night with no street lighting,” he said.

He saw civilians and emergency services helping soldiers at about 12.30am.

“The priority was to care for the injured and those who were unfortunately dying. That is what I most remember ... the carnage and total inhumanity of it all.”

IRA THREATENED FAMILY OF SURGEON WHO TREATED SURVIVORS