Ceasefire breakdown victims: ‘They murdered our RUC fathers, but they can’t destroy our pride in them’

Constable John Graham with two of his three daughters
Constable John Graham with two of his three daughters
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The IRA ceasefire of this day 25 years ago raised hopes that years of countless terrorist attacks were finally over, but the respite was relatively short-lived.

Within 18 months of the ceasefire, which began at midnight on August 31, 1994, the peace was shattered with a devastating bomb attack on the London Docklands – with further terrorist attacks eventually leading to the brutal murder of two Lurgan RUC officers in June 1997.

Constable David Johnston with his two sons

Constable David Johnston with his two sons

There was widespread revulsion at both the February 1996 bomb attack on Canary Wharf and even greater international outrage when the two constables were gunned down in the north Armagh town.

US president Bill Clinton was one of those who expressed disgust at the Lurgan murders. A number of hardened republicans also said they were shocked as they believed no further attacks could be justified.

The families of constables John Graham and David Johnston have struggled to come to terms with the deaths of their loved ones.

Abigail Graham was only seven-years-old when she was brought home early from school to hear the news of the father’s death.

She said attempts to sanitise the terrorist murders prior to the final 1998 peace deal are indefensible and only add to the grief of victims.

“We would still very much like to get justice – to get the perpetrators, even though they would only get two years [in prison], that would give us some kind of closure,” she said.

“But we have never had the full story, because we have never had a trial, and we have never had justice. It would go a long way to helping us heal if we did. We just feel that nobody cares.

“Yes, we have peace now and the Good Friday Agreement, but sometimes you feel as if there are attempts to justify the things that happened before the Good Friday Agreement, saying ‘that was a different time’.

“It doesn’t matter if it was before or after, we have the same grief.

“This is not a historical issue for us. It is still affecting us every day and will continue to do so.”

John Graham, from Richhill, was 34 and married with three children.

Daughter Abigail said she vividly remembers kissing her daddy goodbye on the doorstep as she left for school.

“A few hours later at school the deputy head stuck her head into the classroom just said that she had to walk me up to the school gates. When we got home there were about 10 cars outside which I thought was strange.

“They told mum what had happened and then mum brought us into the good room and said ‘daddy’s gone to heaven.’

“That’s when the nightmare started. For months and years I can remember being afraid to sleep alone, and bringing the dog inside at night because it seemed as if the outside world wasn’t safe anymore.”

She said her mum did her best to make the family feel secure in the most difficult of circumstances.

“Mum tried to reassure us that we weren’t at risk but as a child it’s very hard to understand that. We were frightened that there were people out there with guns, and that stayed with me into adult life.

“It was an awful burden on mum, to have, rather than three normal children, three who were really dependent and frightened children.”

Abigail added: “I remember thinking about what would happen to us if anything happened to mum – that we would be orphans. It definitely wasn’t a normal childhood after that day.

“It was such a burden on her but she did such an incredible job.

“Whenever we went to someone’s house who had that family unit [including a father], we were very conscious that our house was different.”

Commenting on those who continue to advocate violence, Ms Graham said: “It is so clear that they are not wanted, and that they don’t have any support, so I don’t know what authority they think they have that allows them to continue. They continue to destroy people’s lives and they have no conscience.”

David Johnston, a 30-year-old married father-of-two from Lisburn was killed at Church Walk, just yards from the town’s RUC station, along with his friend and colleague John Graham.

Like Constable Graham’s daughter Abigail, David Johnston’s son Louie was also seven-years-old when his ‘hero’ father was taken from him.

“It’s very hard, because you love both of your parents so much, especially at a young age when you are so reliant on them, but for me, dad was my hero,” he said.

“To lose that person, who would have taken you fishing and to the cinema, is losing a hero who was the best dad in the world, and still is.

“To see my mum so upset, I felt like I had to step up, even though I was only seven, which brought more of those burdens on to me, to try to take them away from my mum.”

Despite his young age at the time, Louie can recall the horror of that fateful afternoon.

“I remember getting picked up from school by my granny and my dad’s sergeant,” he said.

“We went back to the house and I remember thinking ‘something’s not right here’. There were loads of cars there, and I couldn’t understand why people were saying they were so sorry.

“My mum told me dad had been in an accident. I asked her what kind of accident and what hospital was he in, so she just said, ‘no your daddy’s dead.’”

Louie refuses to allow his father to be defined by a uniform, or dehumanised by those who seek to justify his murder.

“As children we didn’t have any idea what a unionist or a nationalist was. We weren’t brought up like that. Our fathers weren’t political in any way.

“These were two men who weren’t defined by the clothes that they wore that day. They might have had to wear a green uniform but that wasn’t who they were. They were loving fathers and they were loving husbands who cared so much about their families.

“They didn’t judge people by their religion, but by the content of their character.

“They may have murdered our fathers, but they didn’t destroy their lives in terms of who they were, or the love that they had for their families or our pride in them.”

Commenting on those who are still radicalising young people in an effort to perpetuate violence, he said: “They are completely devoid of humanity and they don’t live in the real world.

“They are not freedom fighters and they are achieving nothing.”

The second IRA ceasefire was announced just weeks later on July 20, 1997, with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement signed in April 1998.