Legacy Scandal: Six months after IRA murdered dad, mum died of a broken heart
In the latest essay in our series on the legacy imbalance, KATHRYN JOHNSTON explains how the IRA murder of her father shortened the lives of five other close relatives (links to other essays in the series beneath the article):
The current Northern Ireland Office (NIO) poposals on legacy close on October 5.
It was supposed to be a consultation on a way forward for the people of Northern Ireland.
The ideas were agreed by the five main political parties, and it is notable that some of them have been virtually silent on these matters during consultation — this is at a time when they should be doing all they can to assist their constituents understand and respond to the proposals.
Yet these legacy proposals do not reflect the stark facts of Northern Ireland, that can never be rewritten nor whitewashed away: 2,057 people were murdered by republican terrorists and 1,027 by loyalist terrorists (according to CAIN). Only 363 were killed by the police and army.
Nowhere in the legacy proposals does it deal with totality of the horror. All these families, devastated beyond comprehension.
The ripple effect of each murder and the hellish toll it took, and still takes to this day.
My father, Constable Harry Beckett, was walking back on beat patrol to Queen Street RUC station in central Belfast, when a pair of cowardly gunmen approached from behind, shooting his colleague, Gary Meyer, then after a struggle, shooting my dad in the face.
The gun pressed against his chin, he died instantly.
These gunmen in the act of murder did not just kill my father, their actions went far deeper.
A week or so after his death two representatives from the RUC widows’ association arrived. My mum, then aged 47, told them politely she didn’t want to be a widow.
I was there and remember her saying that. Aged 17, I did not understand it why she said it at the time. Now that I am approaching her age, I do understand why she said that.
And, sure enough, less than six months later, she died of a broken heart. That is how the coroner described it, there is a medical term, cardio something, and that is how I describe what I saw happen to her.
My mum couldn’t live without my dad, it was as simple as that.
From that moment on, death seemed a constant. Both of my grandmothers died within years of the killing and neither recovered from seeing their child and their child’s spouse die in quick succession.
To watch a woman, dad’s mum, be held up and supported as her son was laid to rest will live with me until I die.
To lose a child is not part of the natural order. No one should bury their child.
I was an only child and then was orphaned at 17, and from then to my mid 20s I lost every foundation and every support system.
The last of my close relatives to die was my mum’s sister, who was badly affected at losing her mother and her sister. And a bit before that my other aunt, dad’s sister, died aged only in her early 60s. She had felt the strain of it all terribly, losing both her brother and her mother.
No one can tell me that losing the rock of the family, my dad, did not hasten those five other deaths.
All this caused by the IRA, who have never been held to account for the countless atrocities they committed. Yes, some of them went to jail but not one of them served an actual life sentence, despite in our family alone murdering dad and hastening all the other deaths of his loved ones.
Such murderers when they were convicted didn’t even get the 30 years behind bars that killing a policeman would get in England — and, I believe, is the law in the Republic of Ireland as well for murdering a member of the gardai.
And look now at all the attention on the much smaller number of killings by the RUC and British army, against whom it is easier to find information or bring a civil action.
I have been given names as to who murdered dad, but I will not see them in dock — it is as simple as that.
The facts are clear, terrorists are responsible for the great majority of deaths and that fact remains despite the current tide of whitewash.
The media is full of legacy inquests, which are long overdue and those families deserver the truth.
In any civil and just society, due process in all its forms has to be seen to be done.
It does seem at the moment this process is focusing in on the army and police and not dealing with the thousands of murders caused by terrorists.
I hope that each family has some sort of resolution to each case.
I am one of the people who has had a full Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report and so currently I will not be entitled to a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) investigation.
A balanced and proportionate process where the truth is outed is necessary in any wounded society, to be able to forward.
We cannot go back to those days again and those who committed these heinous acts, will in all probability never be punished.
Sadly, no peace is perfect, but it should be balanced.
Never forget the pain that so many of us live with daily.
The true cost is the victims, the injured, the grieving.
• Kathryn Johnston is a member of the Victims and Survivors Forum
MORE ON LEGACY SCANDAL SERIES BELOW: