Police family speaks out for first time 35 years after IRA murdered their brother and three other young officers

The brothers of a young rising RUC officer today break their silence over his murder, exactly 35 years since it happened.

Wednesday, 20th May 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th May 2020, 12:19 pm
RUC family (left to right): William David Wilson with his sons Billy, Chris and John, taken in 1983/84

William ‘Billy’ Wilson was one of four RUC officers blown up by an IRA bomb at the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

At 28-years-old, and recently promoted to the rank of inspector, Billy was both the eldest and most senior of the officers who died.

Now two brothers – both also former policemen – have spoken out about the anguish which the multiple murder caused, the difficulty in forgiving those responsible, and the anger felt at the hopeless prospects for justice.

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The other three victims of the bombing – David Baird , Stephen Rodgers, and female officer Tracy Doak

The News Letter is telling their story as part of an occasional series focusing on some of the forgotten or lesser-known anniversaries of the Troubles.

The attack took place on May 20, 1985 at a border crossing to the west of Newry.

The officers had been waiting in a car for a Brinks-Mat van carrying a cargo of money.

They were due to escort it north, but then an IRA unit based just over the border detonated a bomb hidden nearby.

The others killed were David Baird, 22, Tracy Doak, 21, and Stephen Rodgers, 19.

No-one has been charged with the killings.

John Wilson, aged 59 and based in north Down, is a retired detective sergeant.

He had been on duty when news came in of a bomb at the border, and was concerned because Billy had recently been posted there.

Their father (called David and also a policeman) phoned the Newry station to ask for Billy – but he began to worry when told “he wasn’t available at the minute”.

When a senior officer confirmed that Billy was indeed dead, “all hell broke loose” in the Wilson family home.

Billy’s injuries were extensive said John: “It was a closed coffin. We couldn’t see him – there was very little left of him.”

The family also had to walk out of parts of the inquest because of the graphic details about his remains.

“Our father passed away a number of years ago, but it broke his heart until the day he died,” said John.

However, John added that father David managed to find “a sense of purpose” by setting up the RUC George Cross Parents’ Association, and “that helped him”.

Looking back on the IRA’s campaign after all these years, John said it rankles with him to hear republicans “play the human rights card”.

“It was a war when it suited people to call it a war,” he said.

“From my perspective the big question is: For what?”

Brother Chris, 62, is also an ex-detective sergeant.

He said Billy (who was based in the Moira area) was the most “sensible” of the siblings and “had brains to burn”.

“Billy just wanted to go places,” he said.

“He would’ve been in Newry for two weeks, and he went out in that car just to get to know people.

“You get some inspectors couldn’t be bothered going out and will sit in an office. But Billy would’ve got involved.

“He had a great mind for studying. I can honestly say he would’ve gone places in the RUC.

“I remember it like it happened yesterday. It does not go away.

“There is nothing we can do about it.

“My father never forgave the people who did it. And I can’t blame him for it, to be honest. It hurt him very bad.”

Would he, as a brother, be willing to forgive?

“If I’m allowed to say it: No,” replied Chris.

“Because the people can’t even admit to doing it.”

However he then added: “I’d probably think about it if they came forward and explained to me why.”

Chris went on to say: “Everybody is looking for inquiries, et cetera.

“We didn’t get an inquiry. And there’s nothing we can do about it. It is what it is.

“You have to live with it, just. It’s unfortunate. But you have to get on with your life.

“I am angry. I’m angry because we’ve got no ... what’s the word? Closure.

“My mother will pass away, there won’t be any closure.

“I’ll pass away, and there won’t be any closure.

“Nothing is going to happen about it.

“I said to my mum and dad that if it had’ve been John or me it wouldn’t have been as bad, because we had no kids [at that time].

“That was the bit that got me – Billy had a couple of kids.

“They did very well for themselves, One is actually a sergeant in the police in Scotland. Billy would’ve been very. very proud of them.”

Billy Wilson is survived by his siblings Chris, John, Brian and sister Linda, mother Pat, widow Avril, and Billy’s children Gareth (a mechanical engineer) and Jonathan (the Police Scotland officer).


The killing of the four young police officers came less than three months after the IRA rained down a series of home-made mortars onto Newry police station.

On that occasion, the attack cost the lives of nine people, the youngest of whom was 19 and the eldest 41.

When it comes to the three other officers killed on May 20, the book ‘Lost Lives’ records that Tracy Doak had been engaged to be married to another police officer at the time of her death.

It adds she had been the driver of their armoured Ford Cortina.

The bomb was described as weighing 1,000 pounds (about 550kg) and was hidden inside a trailer.

In setting up the attack, the IRA had stolen a vehicle at gunpoint from its owner near Newtownhamilton.


David Wilson’s RUC GC Parents’ Association was formed in 2003.

Parents of RUC officers who have been murdered as a direct result of terrorist action during the troubles came together and formed an association for mutual support.

The association also includes parents of murdered PSNI officers.

The association works on a regional basis and offers an active programme of social events for members which provides much needed opportunities for social contact.

It describes its aims as follows:

• Ensure that the parents of murdered RUC and PSNI officers receive due recognition of their loss;

• Provide welfare and support;

• Provide a range of activities aimed at the social support of parents;

• Act as a point of reference for parents and as a point of referral for outside bodies;

• Facilitate services which address the psychological and physical legacy of trauma and to arrange for the practical needs of parents to be met.

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Alistair Bushe