Pressure on victims’ commissioner grows as terrorist pension fears rise

A woman who lost her father and the use of her legs due to IRA terrorism has added her voice to those calling on Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson to resign.

Wednesday, 24th July 2019, 7:00 am
IRA bomb survivor Andrea Brown with a photo of her father Eric, who was murdered by the same group

In Monday’s News Letter, 14 bodies representing up to 10,000 people called on Ms Thompson to resign. They said her support for current legislation, which allows both perpetrators and their victims to qualify as victims, are at odds with the majority of Troubles victims.

Now Andrea Brown from Moira has added her voice to those calling on Ms Thompson to go. Her father, RUC Sgt Eric Brown, was murdered by the IRA in 1983 when she was 12. She also suffered severe injuries from the IRA Lisburn Fun Run bomb five years later.

“My father’s murder had a big impact on my schooling and choices that I made in life,” she said. “If dad hadn’t been killed I would not have been anywhere near the fun run that night, because I would not have been buying a wedding dress in Lisburn at the age of 18.”

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Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson. Photo: Press Eye.

Andrea suffered post traumatic stress disorder, serious back neck and leg injuries and underwent three years of hospital treatment as a result.

Afterwards she lived a “semi-normal” life until she lost all power and sensation below the waist on the left side nine years ago. She now relies on carers four times a day.

She was never able to have a career and her marriage broke up as a result of her injuries, she said. The car and home adaptions she needs for a wheelchair are “very expensive”, she says, as is the special pain relief she needs. The statutory funding of £140 every three weeks was withdrawn due to cutbacks.

“So the pension would be the difference between existing and being able to live the semblance of a normal life for me. But I just think it is deplorable that anyone that is going out to murder and maim would also get it. This would not be acceptable in any other country. She [Ms Thompson] definitely has to go.”

While legislation is currently passing through Parliament which would roll out the long stalled pension, UUP MLA Doug Beattie says his party “remains concerned” that the wording of the related amendment “is not sufficiently strong enough”.

Citing “behind closed doors deals” done on IRA comfort letters, he added: “This makes us alert to the possibility that through some measured loophole, terrorists will avail of these pensions.”

He also rejected DUP assurances that the government will bring forward proposals for a new UK-wide definition of a victim by October; the DUP had three years as partners in government with the Tories to achieve this, he said.

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United agreed that the wording of the pensions amendment is “not sufficiently watertight and that a legal challenge could follow”. The DUP could offer reassurances by saying it would withdraw support for the Tories if a UK-wide victims definition does not happen, he added.

Both Mr Beattie and Mr Donaldson have supported calls on the commissioner to resign.

Ms Thompson has not responded to the latest calls for her to resign. On Sunday she said it was “entirely understandable” that many people are angry about the current definition of a victim, but added that when asked to advise government on a Troubles pension, she was not asked to comment on the definition. “I will continue to communicate to politicians at Stormont and Westminster, the views of all victims and survivors as is my statutory duty,” she said.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the current definition is “immoral” and that the government has committed to drafting a report on changing the definition by October.

“We trust this can create a platform for the necessary change,” he added.

He also welcomed government assurances that terrorists would not be eligible for the pension.