McGuinness anniversary: ‘The IRA killed Clive but we kept things to ourselves. Who would listen?’

Clive Graham was shot in the head by a sniper while on patrol in the Creggan area of Londonderry
Clive Graham was shot in the head by a sniper while on patrol in the Creggan area of Londonderry

For retired Co Antrim roadworker John McAllister, today is a particularly poigniant anniversary.

As many people around the Province mourn the death of Martin McGuinness exactly one year ago today, the Co Antrim widower is instead mourning his step son – killed precisely three decades ago by the IRA in Mr McGuinness’ former command district.

The book ‘Lost Lives’, a compendium of deaths from the Troubles era, recounts that Clive Graham had been in Lislane Drive in the Creggan area of west Londonderry on March 21, 1988, when he was shot dead. He was aged 25.

Until approached by the News Letter this month, Mr McAllister had never spoken to a journalist about the death of his step son.

He plans to mark Clive’s killing by placing flowers in his church – something he does every year on the anniversary.

However this year he must do so without Margaret, Clive’s mother, who died last June.

Mr McAllister, aged 69 and from Cloughmills in north Antrim, had married Margaret in 1975, when Clive was still a boy.

“He was into sports. He did well at school. And then when he left school he wanted to learn to be an electrician,” he told the News Letter.

Clive embarked on a four-year apprenticeship to learn the trade, but with just six months left to go the firm he was with went bust, scuppering his chances of qualifying.

Instead he joined the police.

“He’d have been happy enough as an electrician if he’d been kept on,” said Mr McAllister.

“But at that time the work was scarce. So the police was handy for him at the time.”

It was in the midst of dangerous times.

“But he just wanted to do it and his mother thought he’d be alright,” he said.

“We all thought that.”

Asked if Clive talked much about his work, he said: “He kept a lot of stuff to himself. He never told Margaret much about it, for I don’t think he wanted her to worry.

“As a matter of fact he was [commended] for bravery, because there was a bomb in Londonderry at one time and he cleared the street. But he never even told us about it.

“We only found out after he was killed. The police were up here and told us.”

When it comes to the day of his death, Mr McAllister said: “He was out on patrol that morning, and he was shot by a sniper in the head.

“That’s all we knew about it. It was up in the Creggan somewhere. That’s all they told us. He was hit by a bullet. And that was it.”

He had been at work when the news broke.

“We were sat at our tea, and we heard it come over the news that a young policeman had been shot in Londonderry.

“One of my mates said to me: ‘You think Clive would know that fella?’

“I said: ‘There’s hundreds of police there, I don’t know whether he would’ – not even thinking it would be him.

“An hour later then the police came flying and went up to the foreman. I thought it was something else, something to do with the roadworks.

“Then the next thing they came to me. They said: ‘Clive is critically injured’ and they brought me home to the wife.

“It took a lot out of her. Margaret was alright on the funeral morning. She stuck up well. But about six weeks later she went down. She couldn’t even walk.

“It was just delayed shock, the doctor said.

“She wasn’t that well before it – she’d rheumateoid arthritis, and that there just flared it up worse.

“She stayed with her mother for about six weeks.

“She couldn’t even stay in the house here.”

Clive was the only child she had, and by the time of his killing she was not well enough to have any more children.

Clive had kept both Catholic and Protestant friends, said Mr McAllister, and after the killing his mother was “never a bitter woman” and retained her own Catholic friends.

She died last June 22, three months after the colossal public outpouring of grief over Mr McGuinness’ death.

“I said to my wife when I heard on the news about McGuinness passing away on the 21st of March, I says: ‘that’s the same day Clive was killed’,” said Mr McAllister.

“That was all. We just passed that between the two of us. We never mentioned it to nobody.”

He added: “They’re forgetting about the young police that lost their lives. They’re never mentioned.

“Clive was out to save lives – he wasn’t out to take lives.

“Yet all these terrorists that was taking lives were thought more of than people was out trying to keep the peace.

“And now they talk about the security forces – if it hadn’t been for them, the country would’ve been a lot worse.”

When it comes to what he thinks about Mr McGuinness, he said people “could’ve maybe worked with him better” than with Gerry Adams.

But he added: “He never really apologised for anything he done. He was still a terrorist, I think.”

Asked about the claims some people make that efforts are being made to sanitise the violence of the past, he said: “To tell you the truth, I never really think much about it, because if you did it’d ruin your life all the time.

“Clive’s anniversary comes, I put flowers in the church for him, and I remember him that way.

“But Margaret and me kept things to ourselves.

“Because ... what’s the point?

“What’s the point of us complaining, for they wouldn’t be listening to us anyway.”

KILLER WAS FREED EARLY

The book ‘Lost Lives’ states that a man, aged 20, was convicted in 1989 over the killing.

Media reports in 1998 name him as Damien Nicell. He was released from the Maze prison under the Good Friday Agreement that year.

Clive had been an RUC reservist initially, before becoming regular.

He was posted to Strabane, and also served with the riot squad in Londonderry. About a year before joining the police, he had joined the UDR.

‘Lost Lives’ also states that during the course of the gun attack, a passer-by carrying a baby had also been shot.

After the killing, John McAllister said he and his wife were not allowed to identify the body – possibly, he believes, because the authorities were sparing them the sight – so an uncle went instead.

He had a girlfriend at the time of his death, whom he had been seeing for at least several months.

‘Lost Lives’ quotes her as saying on the day he was killed, Clive was set to make a decision about emigrating.

Mr McAllister cast doubt on this, saying he had never mentioned such a move to him or his wife.

Clive Graham is buried at Ballyweaney Presbyterian Church near Cloughmills.

One of the few other mentions of him in the media came last year from Jim Allister, who noted the parallel between his date of death and Martin McGuinness’.